June 4th, 2012, 10:34 PM
"Lord El-Melloi! You're back to grace my humble workshop with your presence! By the ro-"
"Don't finish that sentence."
There it is!
The cathartic release given by this moment made almost its existence worth it.
Oh and the rest of the story's good too.
June 4th, 2012, 10:38 PM
That would kill me. I pride myself on my ability to read large amounts of text...but that would be too much for this poor deer.
Originally Posted by Zalgo Jenkins
There is nothing greater than a loli.
LIKE A KING
Everything I say is a lie.
LIKE A KING
Butt-windows are the portal to the soul.
LIKE A KING
Originally Posted by Komrade Kwestions
June 4th, 2012, 10:40 PM
George E. Ohr
Originally Posted by Zalgo Jenkins
June 4th, 2012, 10:43 PM
Definitely Not Saber
We are here today to honor our dearly beloved forum member Al, who bit off more then he could read. His last moments were a thing of tragedy, like a dear caught in the headlights of a car; he froze in the face of such insurmountable odds and kicked the bucket. Let us share a moment of silence...
Originally Posted by Alulim
June 4th, 2012, 10:48 PM
Is that so!
Pfff. I've read way longer than FFD or IF. Hit it doc.
June 4th, 2012, 10:51 PM
Would we have a dead undead (asshat) deer god?
Originally Posted by Alulim
(Are you still the last bastion of that joke, btw?)
June 4th, 2012, 10:53 PM
I have seen two others.
Originally Posted by Seika
There is nothing greater than a loli.
LIKE A KING
Everything I say is a lie.
LIKE A KING
Butt-windows are the portal to the soul.
LIKE A KING
Originally Posted by Komrade Kwestions
June 4th, 2012, 10:58 PM
Hawaiian-shirted classy hobo
This story is glorious, and were I in charge, Eoin Colfer would be out of a job, and you'd be doing the next Artemis Fowl books.
A troll does his work silently, softly, that those around him do not notice. True trolls do not require recognition, and so the best trolls go unknown.
[eddyak's Criminal Coefficient is 9001; Lethal Eliminator enabled. Carefully shoot and kill eddyak.]
June 4th, 2012, 10:59 PM
George E. Ohr
I saw the parallel a few times, but wasn't sure if it was quite correct.
Originally Posted by eddyak
June 4th, 2012, 11:01 PM
Is that so!
...now that you put it that way, they ARE similar, aren't they... whoa.
Originally Posted by eddyak
June 4th, 2012, 11:04 PM
Hawaiian-shirted classy hobo
Meriwether isn't quite a genius, but he does have the whole rich-cultured-educated thing going on a lot better than Artemis does.
A troll does his work silently, softly, that those around him do not notice. True trolls do not require recognition, and so the best trolls go unknown.
[eddyak's Criminal Coefficient is 9001; Lethal Eliminator enabled. Carefully shoot and kill eddyak.]
June 4th, 2012, 11:08 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
That wasn't intended negatively. I like FFD and IF. Especially IF, which is basically responsible for me writing this. I'm just imagining a 200K+ wall of text on a single page.
Originally Posted by Lycodrake
June 4th, 2012, 11:16 PM
Which is death.
Originally Posted by Zalgo Jenkins
There is nothing greater than a loli.
LIKE A KING
Everything I say is a lie.
LIKE A KING
Butt-windows are the portal to the soul.
LIKE A KING
Originally Posted by Komrade Kwestions
June 4th, 2012, 11:33 PM
I read a 600k story on a whim. It all being on one page will only save me time.
Originally Posted by Zalgo Jenkins
That said, your style is much, much, much better. It's also much more professional. Like an actual story, and not a fanfic.
June 5th, 2012, 07:55 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
My mother once mentioned that binding promises are for romantics and fools. How much more foolish, then, to bind oneself to another's desires with cursed magecraft. Cursed, heavily customized, and therefore also unusual magecraft.
And unusual magecraft is often dangerous.
A man in golden armor smiled.
Swords flew. They fired from a warp in reality; a two-dimensional golden haze that had torn through the air around it like an open portal. White lines wavered in a crisscrossing pattern on its surface, like light on water. Weapons of all sorts emerged. The haze rippled around them. Black spears. A sword with zig-zagged patterns cut into the flat of the blade. Scimitars. A brass mace with a hollow center and four protruding flanges, all crowned with a red jewel the size of an egg.
A line of explosions marked their paths as they struck the ground.
A figure in blue dodged between the explosions. It was small and thin, like a boy or a young woman. Fire reflected from the armor that he - or she - wore.
The man in gold's smile grew wider, and he rubbed a hand over his shock of blond hair.
"Where's your master, dog? It's the homunculus, isn't-"
Her sword's lunging swipe cut him off. He dodged.
With a roar, another figure swooped down on the golden man. The new combatant was like a black cloud in human likeness. His helmet's visor glowed with red light. The golden man held up his hand, and a barrage of swords flew. The black knight caught one by the hilt and swung like a cricket batter at the oncoming swords. The air exploded. Cooked, almost.
A fourth figure emerged from the night. He wore a skintight forest green garment that seemed too thin to be armor despite its segmented chest. Bracers guarded each arm. He wielded two spears, one red and one gold.
Swords rained three ways now. Some harried the boyish figure in blue, others kept the black knight busy with an insane game of ping-pong, and still others cut through the air toward the spearman. Rather than dodge, he deflected. The red spear lashed out. Some swords glanced away. Others shattered to flinders in a hail of sparks.
In the distance, the sound of gunfire.
I woke up with something halfway between a choke and a scream, and realized that I had been making this noise for some time. The room spun. Sweat coated my sheets, and I felt a sort of choking fullness in my upper chest. My jaw ached. My throat ached. My right arm felt like I'd crushed it in a pneumatic press, while my left simply felt numb.
A heavy sensation had settled on my chest and breastbone, as if something out of a night terror was sitting on it. Dizziness swirled through my skull. Breaths came rapidly and without comfort. It called to mind the occasion I'd had the wind knocked out of me.
What was going...?
Something soft had wrapped around my leg. When my muscles twisted me forward, arms held me back. The muscles burned, but ultimately gave up their struggles and relaxed again.
The ache retreated from my arm. My stomach's churning slowed. Even the feeling of pressure on my chest seemed to lift slightly. I became aware of hair brushing against my face.
"Meriwether! Oh thank - What's happening? Please tell me what's wrong!"
My Sekirei was wrapped around me, and shaking. Dark rings had formed around her eyes. She wore a nightgown, although it had been torn slightly. Bits of mucus and blood from my nose were in her hair. The room smelled of stomach acid.
"You've b-been throwing up and spasming for n-nine hours, now," she said.
I tried to lay my hand on her back, but my arm ran out of energy and brushed against her face instead. She held it against her cheek.
"I-it's OK now, right, Meriwether? Right? A-and we can fix it if it's not! Whatever it-"
"Need...to...get...Kazeh - urgh - Kazeha..." I said.
"What?" she said. "You can barely move! You need to-"
A geis contract between magi can take several forms. One variety operates on the thaumaturgical crest directly, and its terms appear to non-magi as meaningless scribbles. Such a contract, it is said, can bind a man even after death. Another type lodges itself beside the heart, traveling through the nerves and binding itself in the body and mind. The slightly more exotic form that I had adapted for my contract with Higa had been modified to accommodate a bargain between a magus and non-magus. Yet all of them share a common characteristic: they are, technically speaking, curses.
They do not all necessarily bind through good faith, or enhanced motivation, or by controlling the body of the promisor. I'd wanted flexibility, freedom of action. This particular variant bound partly through the promise of suffering.
And I had been lax in my contractual duties. For far too long.
I also suspected that my second contract's incorporation of the first's terms had aggravated the situation. Or perhaps my earlier skirting of the rules had triggered a delayed reaction. Or...anything. I am not an expert. In retrospect, I should have been.
"Need...to get...Kazehana soon," I said. "Pain's stopped...hurry before...changes...its mind."
Benitsubasa's hands clenched and unclenched as she looked from me to the wall and back again. She did it rapidly, as if she was a contestant trying to choose between two doors on one of those infernal Japanese game shows.
"...I-I can do that! I'll do it, okay? Just tell me what to do and I'll-"
"Need me...as well...has to work first - herghk - time," I said.
If I kept working toward the goal, the geis might leave me alone for long enough to finish the job. But that meant I had to hurry.
"Get...ready...t'go," I said.
I smirked and touched her hair.
"An' take...shower...you smell...awful...'kay Benitsubasa?"
Benitsubasa gave me a tight smile. With the moisture in her eyes, I was unsure whether her next shudder was a laugh or a sob. Regardless, she nodded.
"You first, though," she said.
I felt pressure on my armpit as she put my arm over her shoulder and helped me up. We staggered - or, rather, I staggered and she half-carried me - over to the bathroom. Cold tile stung my feet. She lowered me into the shower , and I heard the handle squeak as she turned it. Warmth ran over my face and back as Benitsubasa brushed the hair out of my eyes.
Through the steam, I saw her smiling softly.
"Somehow, I'd hoped our first shower together would be a little...different."
"S'indecent..." I muttered.
"Shut up and relax. You need to recover before we go somewhere anyway."
She scrubbed away the accumulated grime quickly, as befitted our short time schedule. My stomach lurched once more, but otherwise behaved itself. When I stood up again, I did so under my own power.
A bit shakily, perhaps, but I managed. I suppose I had to concede that the warm water had done its work. I leaned against the door frame.
"Clean up," I said. "You have eight minutes while I get dressed and get us -"
My heart twinged. I inhaled sharply and closed my eyes.
"I'll take five," she said.
Given more time, I would have investigated the Sekirei disappearances further. Alas, my contract with Higa had worked admirably. I had none to spare.
Benitsubasa and I found ourselves headed for the one spot that might have held the key to defeating Miya. The cab had dropped us off a few blocks from our destination.
I sipped a plastic bottle of orange juice as we walked. Thus far, my stomach had cooperated. The sun beat down. I could feel my heartbeat through my hands. They felt tiny and shrunken, as if I'd lost all sensation in the muscles and skin, and could only feel my bones.
I leaned slightly on Benitsubasa's shoulder. My Sekirei had the decency not to comment on the arrangement, and I admit to a small spark of gratitude for her tactfulness. It went unremarked, naturally.
"So...what's the plan?" she said.
"You recall, I presume, that my father currently heads the Clock Tower's Spiritual Invocation Division?"
"Uh, yeah, you mentioned it once or twice..."
"Technically, my father's department would oversee research into Sekirei crests if we ever got our hands on your species - which we won't, incidentally - but its primary purpose lies elsewhere."
"Like what?" she said.
"Invoking entities that you would call ghosts or spirits," I said. "Hence the blindingly obvious title."
"Sheesh, you're bitchy this morning," she said.
"Must have something to do with the cursed hole in my chest."
I waved my hand.
"Your apology is unnecessary. In any event, the combination of my family's aptitude for invocation, Matsu's investigation of MBI's files on me, and Miya's rather unhealthy attachment to her dead husband gave me an idea for a bit of blackma-"
Someone had turned our destination to splinters and cement dust. Its bounded field remained. The scent of smoke still hung in the air, as if the field had activated recently. Yet whoever - or whatever - had touched it had either left or been carried away.
The smudged windows had cracked. The door lay atop a pile of bricks. Alongside scratches from the peeling paint, it now bore four parallel gouges. Its hinges had been twisted like putty. Benitsubasa traced the marks with her index finger, and frowned.
I stuck my head in. A sight far worse awaited me.
All of the books were gone.
Former shelves of vellum and leather now stood with nary a speck of dust to mark their occupants' passing. Even the ruby-eyed bird automaton had been reduced in glittering fragments. Tiny screws lay on the floor, nestled in nooks and crannies like Easter eggs.
The grandfather clock had been splintered, nay, ripped to shreds. As I walked into the kitchen, I saw worse: shreds of paper and vellum. Bindings torn from their pages. I caressed a ripped page with half a magic circle inscribed on it. My fingers rubbed the ink: a mixture of gum arabic, ferrous sulfate, galls, and water that must have lasted for centuries before someone had destroyed the book that had sheltered it.
Oh, and the first-generation magus was dead, for what it was worth. That mystic code Swiss army knife of his rested beside him. It had been crushed into a ball.
Dried bloodstains covered the ground. The carpet was ruined.
"Who did this...?" I said.
Benitsubasa looked up from the body. It was purple and bloated, and even when one took the heat into account, it must have been sitting for a while before we found it. The bounded field had ensured privacy even after death.
"These claw marks look familiar," Benitsubasa said. "I've seen wounds like this on Haihane's targets."
"I was referring to the books, but I suppose that's good to know as well," I said.
I stepped over the remains of a sofa. Glass crunched. Sunlight shined through holes in the wood. When I followed the likely paths of the projectiles that must have made them, I found impact points, but no projectiles. As if they'd melted into thin air.
I looked back at the body. The slices initially gave the impression of butchered game. Yet there was something else. Something beyond simply preparing a trophy. Someone had dug a square hole in his torso. A regular person might have concluded that they were looking for an organ. As a magus, I could narrow the field considerably. They'd been looking for his (nonexistent) thaumaturgical crest.
I knew how the Disciplinary Squad had found this place. I knew why the Disciplinary Squad would want the books. Or at least, I thought I knew. But why dissect the body here? If they wanted the crest, why not bring the body to MBI's labs?
I mentioned some of this to Benitsubasa. I'd primarily intended to hear my own thoughts out loud rather than to solicit advice, but once again, my Sekirei surprised me.
"Maybe they didn't have permission from MBI," she said.
"Then how did they avoid MBI surveillance?"
"The technicians," Benitsubasa said. "They must've bribed or threatened the guys who run the satellites."
"But to what end?"
Benitsubasa shrugged. The corpse gave us no further answers beyond his endless stare.
I hammered my brain for the contents of the library. Most had been theoretical or historical, as befitted a first generation magus. What, then? Basic runes? Formalcraft? Most of those would have been useless to a species that could summon the elements without an Aria.
What are the Jinki?
Again, the question festered in the back of my mind. Did this have something to do with them? Or...?
Pain lanced through my chest. Benitsubasa gasped and caught me before I sank to my knees.
No time for mysteries. Or, better yet, I could combine the two. The landlady knew what the Jinki were, and the landylady protected Minato. Kill two wagtails with one stone.
Or at worst, terminate Kazehana and Stop. The. Pain.. And then, I would have all the time in the world. I could sit behind my bounded field, guarded by Sekirei, and wait until Miya calmed down again.
It would work. Hopefully. It had to.
"We're going home," I said.
I staggered out of the building with little to show for it. Sunlight glared, and I shielded my eyes.
Bony feet alighted on my shoulder. It took perhaps two seconds for me to notice the fluttering of wings next to my ear and react to it. After another moment or two of flailing, I recognized that the bird in question was my own familiar. I felt pinpricks as the claws dug in.
To His Son Meriwether, Residing In Shin Tokyo, Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi, First Lord El-Melloi, Dispatches This Letter:
I have arrived in Japan. I find that my suspicions about your true motives for visiting this intellectual wasteland only grow stronger with the passage of time. It is, if anything, worse than I remember it. The stewardesses refuse to serve tea on flights, the women dress immodestly (though this vice, I concede, extends throughout the industrialized world), and people continuously refer me to that "internet" fad when I make inquiries.
My own business here is now concluded. I have attended to certain matters that need not concern you further.
Thus, it is my intention to retrieve you on the day after tomorrow, and I do not wish to track your prana signature. Provide your familiar with your address, and dispatch the message back to me immediately.
- Kayneth Archibald El-Melloi, First Lord El-Melloi, KG, D.D., Ph.D., L.L.M (Tax), Senior Euryphis Lecturer and Head of the Spiritual Invocation Division, Clock Tower, London; Special Consultant to the Hellsing Organization (ret.); Fellow of the Royal Society
Well...this complicated matters considerably, didn't it? Even if Miya hadn't existed, I wasn't certain that I could eliminate all of the competition in two days. Perhaps if-
"What is it?"
I sighed and handed Benitsubasa the letter. Silence for a while. It crinkled in her hands.
"It's really happening," she whispered. "I thought it wouldn't, somehow..."
"We're accelerating the schedule," I said.
"We'll finish off Minato this afternoon, Miya or otherwise. With luck, we may even coerce her into helping us against Karasuba later on. And then it's up to you: either we drop out of the plan, make whatever deal we can with MBI, and I turn myself in to the Clock Tower, or..."
I waved my hand and hoped she'd get the message. She did.
"The prana exchange ritual," she said.
"Yes. We'll perform the tantric ritual and hope that it provides enough of an edge to defeat the Disciplinary Squad. And we'll take these 'Jinki' while we're at it."
"I thought you needed the books from the dead guy."
"We'll bluff," I said.
"Um...I'm not sure that's a good idea if we're-"
"Does it LOOK like I have options?"
Benitsubasa bit her lip and looked away.
"No...I guess not. Sorry," she said.
"If anything, this plan carries even higher risks than throwing myself on the mercies of the Clock Tower. My prospects are not enviable either way," I said.
"There must be a way to-"
"Doubtful. And in light of the fact that the...er...prana exchange ritual could further complicate your relationship with a future Ashikabi, I suppose I'll leave the dilemma to-"
"Yes. We'll do it."
Benitsubasa squeezed my hand. And I found, condescending though I might have considered the gesture under normal circumstances, that I appreciated it.
June 5th, 2012, 08:03 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
By the time we'd arrived back at Higa's compound, it had already passed two o'clock. No time to experiment with tantric magic. We needed this immediately.
Hardly an ideal time for an attack, either, but at least some of the inhabitants went shopping after midday. The house would be relatively empty. And Kazehana, tippler that she was, would probably remain at home with a sake bottle or twelve.
Five of us sat around a glass table. Benitsubasa sat quietly at attention. Higa leaned forward on his elbows.
Toyotama's quarterstaff clacked on the floor in a one, two-three rhythm. Ichiya contented herself with shifting in her seat every so often.
As for Kochou, she reclined on the couch at the other end of the room, tapping away at the thin-looking computer on the top of her lap.
I dialed Uzume.
The phone's electronic bell tone purred a few times before stopping. I heard distant voices, like crowd sounds in an airport's flight announcement.
"Put it on speakerphone," Benitsubasa said.
While I looked around for appropriate acoustic equipment, Benitsubasa rolled her eyes and snatched my phone. She pressed a button. Uzume's voice became much louder.
"Uzume? Are you-"
"Hsst! Wait a minute!"
Footsteps. I heard a doorknob turn, and hinges squeak. It closed again with a whumpf.
"OK, I'm outside. What do you want?"
"I have two...tasks for you," I said. "As per our earlier agreement, you are obliged to carry them out."
"Yeah, what is it now? You'd better not ask me to kill Minato, because I swear that if you do I'll-"
"Comply. Because, as I mentioned, it's in our contract. But my job is rather simpler."
"Then tell me."
"Item one: Terminate Kazehana. While I'd prefer a Level Five after the job she did on MY Sekirei, I'm afraid something simpler will have to do. Does she ever turn her back long enough to touch her crest?"
"Wh-what? You want me to-"
"Yes, I do. Item two: steal as many items as practicable from Miya's husband's shrine. I understand that she keeps it in the house. I would prefer something that the man - Takehito, I believe? - actually owned while he was still alive, but-"
"What are you going to do?"
"Kochou is composing one of those 'virtual letters' to Matsu as we speak," I said. "We'll send it when you've fulfilled your duties."
"ARE YOU INSANE? Do you have any IDEA what Miya will do to you?"
I smirked. Pity she couldn't see it through the phone line.
"In that case, you'll have relieved yourself of further obligations to me, won't you?"
"...Okay, look. You're arrogant as all get-out, and you'll probably think I have no idea what I'm talking about. I get that. But just listen, OK? Please? MIYA. WILL. KILL. YOU. This isn't Homura. I saw her sparring Musubi and Tsukiumi before you terminated them. She wasn't even trying, and it was like a pro boxer playing around with a couple kids."
"We're wasting time," I said. "I'll be activating that mental link to you that I set up earlier. I want to see through your eyes. We'll communicate through thoughts. No need for cell phones."
"I'm never going to see Chiho again because of this. You know that?"
I shrugged. Again, a pointless gesture given the communication medium.
"I fail to see how that distinguishes you from 106 other Sekirei who will also lose this game," I said. "Some of whom you terminated, as I recall."
"I hope you lose someone close to you someday, Meriwether. I really do. I know it sounds terrible, but I don't care. Maybe then you'll realize that this isn't a fucking game."
"Funny," I said. "Because I distinctly remember saving someone who fit that description for you."
"...And your foul language is not appreciated," I said.
A stream of expletives followed. This, in retrospect, was probably foreseeable.
We began a few minutes later. The rest of the room fell silent. I closed my eyes and recited the appropriate Aria.
Most magi would consider my remote viewing arrangement a complicated luxury. I concede that it was both. It worked along similar principles to a familiar contract, save that it was more elaborate and far less useful. I'd prepared it weeks earlier.
And, as already mentioned, it was useless from a practical standpoint.
Uzume would be doing the work. My own direction, if anything, would degrade her efficiency. Nevertheless, I admit to a certain curiosity. I'd never seen Izumo Inn's interior. More than that, I wanted to watch Uzume eliminate Kazehana.
So I'd see it through her eyes. And I would be able to communicate with her through thoughts. An experience which, now that I thought about it, might not be as pleasant as I'd initially believed.
I chanted the Aria.
Subtract the place.
Subtract the senses.
Subtract the body.
Retain the mind.
Uzume opened her eyes. My - our - eyes.
Are you there? I thought.
This...is really creepy, Uzume's voice replied in my head.
The walls consisted of paper panes framed with wood. When we reached the kitchen, the refrigerator appeared offwhite and rather old. To my disappointment, asylum-green walls replaced the traditional paper panes.
The cabinets barely compensated for the general atmosphere of a daycare center with what appeared to be cherry wood. The floors were covered in green rush mats, crisscrossed with gray foamy-plastic strips that might have been tape. A shame, because I could detect a dark, polished wood underneath the-
HEY! Stop using MY eyes to admire the home furnishing.
And stop monologuing in my head. Ugh...it's like listening to Martha Stewart doing an American Psycho impression.
I loosened the connection between us. I needed Uzume in full control of her faculties. Her muscles returned to her control, and I felt myself (ourselves?) move according to her direction rather than mine.
In another room, that blond child-Sekirei - Kusano, I think - ran across the floor, her feet slapping the rush mats. Her guardians had evidently neglected to mention the concept of 'no-horseplay-in-the-house'.
And that brought to mind another issue:
A child lived in this house.
Where were the textbooks? I hadn't seen so much as a Latin dictionary. Calculators? Chemistry sets? Where had they set up Kusano's first laboratory? Or her shelf of Greek potsherds? Where were the chalkboards filled with equations, and the My First Dissection kit, and all the other things that made childhood so magical?
It was disturbing.
The steps creaked. A white light hung above us, and it cast shadows on the gray walls. Our heart pounded. We set our jaw and continued upward. Our shadow magnified Uzume's errant tuft of hair.
We heard water splashing. Uzume walked along a hallway, undressing as she went. A line of clothes - socks, shirt, bra and jeans - marked her path.
Uzume, surely you're not just going to just leave them there? Don't you have a hamper or-
Uzume opened the door. It was a relatively traditional bath by this country's standards. The upper portion of the wall and the floorboards were the same dark wood paneling that I'd noticed downstairs, while the lower half had been painted robin's egg blue. Even the bathtub was a wooden box, perhaps ten feet long. And...
We noticed Kazehana sitting by the side of the side of the tub. The combination of steam and sweat had created beads of moisture all over her body. It was the sort of body that Bouguereau would have slobbered over: absurdly oversized breasts, round bottom, et cetera.
And then, Uzume's mind took over.
A heaviness grew in our chest as we remembered the times we'd touched that body. We wiped tears from our eyes, even as we felt a warmth growing from remembered closeness. Not...love, exactly. But we remembered. The softness of those breasts. The silky feeling of Kazehana's skin against our fingers-
Enough! Stop this disgusting train of thought THIS INSTANT, d'you hear me?
Bite me, Meriwether.
If you mean that literally (as opposed to the exotic idiomatic expression that I assume it to be), then I can assure you that after learning where your body has been, I'd rather-
Kazehana looked up.
"Uzume? Are you all right?" she said.
A jolt of cold in our chest. Adrenaline.
"Uh...yeah. Just, um, thinking about Musubi and Tsukiumi. It's lonely without them, you know?" we said.
Kazehana nodded. She looked down, and we followed her gaze to the green bottle of sake in her lap. It was roughly the length of her arm.
"Drink with me, Uzume?"
We blinked the steam from our eyes, and felt the warm puddle as we sat beside Kazehana. Our fingers trembled.
We saw the Crest. Right on the back of her neck. A foot away, maybe.
Please don't ask me do this. I'm begging you, okay? Just-
Our hand shot out before Kazehana's eyes could widen, or the betrayal could register on her face. Uzume touched the crest and chanted her Aria at lightning speed. Kazehana slumped. It was, to use a tired-but-apt expression, like watching a puppet getting its strings cut.
And more than a little self-loathing.
I...I actually did it. A-and she just dropped like that. I can't believe I did that to my-
Focus, if you please. Take the items from Miya's shrine and get out of there.
Uzume summoned her veils. White fabric coiled in the air around us, while a short white skirt, veil, and bra wrapped around their corresponding parts. They clung to our body in the damp.
The shrine was mercifully unguarded. As the memory of the motionless body in the bath raced through our head, Uzume opened the door. The room was dark. Only a few beams of afternoon sunlight crept through the window. A second thrill of adrenaline passed through Uzume's body when we saw the photograph, incense, votive scraps of paper, and collection of knicknacks that passed for a "shrine" in this part of the world.
Well? Go on.
Uzume stuffed it all into a sack and rushed for the door. The items clattering against each other did not fill me with confidence that I could return them undamaged. Or use them on the offchance that I did try to summon Takehito some day. If only out of curiosity.
But we were out.
We felt sunshine on our face. We breathed fresh air.
Take it to Higa's new address, I thought. Do you need directions?
Very well, then.
I withdrew my consciousness from Uzume.
When I opened my eyes, my heart leaped in my chest. I wanted to laugh, or roll around giggling. And I had not giggled since I was two years old.
The pain was gone. Terminating Kazehana had worked.
"Meriwether, are you-" Benitsubasa said.
Benitsubasa gave a small "eep" as I jumped up and grabbed her shoulders, squeezing her close to me.
"It's gone! The pain is gone! My soul isn't cracking into a million pieces anymore, and-"
...And I'd just hugged my Sekirei. I let go and muttered an apology. Benitsubasa had gone red in the face. One can only assume that she was as embarassed about my unseemly behavior (and in front of Higa, no less) as I was.
"Send the message," I said.
To Number Zero-One, Miya Asama, Landlady and Former Leader of the Disciplinary Squad (Ret.), Residing At Izumo Inn, Meriwether Archibald, El-Melloi Heir Apparent, Sends Greetings:
Doubtless Matsu has kept you abreast of MBI's research into my books. I direct your attention to one in particular: Fundamentals of Thaumaturgical Theory, wherein you will find a passably accurate overview of the various types of spirits - Wraiths, Guardian Spirits, Animal Spirits, and so on. (See chapters 3-5).
Souls decay. Over time, many become 'leftover thoughts' - a rather poetic term for fragments that cling to this world after their vessel has rotted.
I had often wondered how you developed your bounded field. I have my suspicions. Your Sekirei Crest may well have anchored fragments of your husband's soul to you. One wonders if he had circuits.
...But that is neither here nor there. Whatever the truth of the matter, I doubt that the entirety of your husband's former soul has adhered to your Crest. The remaining undecayed fragments are therefore - as they say in the West - "up for grabs".
And I have just grabbed them.
Uzume has taken your mementos of Takehito. They will serve as a perfect Catalyst to summon whatever is left of your husband. Given my penchant for killing people when they're still alive, I leave your dead husband's fate to your imagination.
If, that is, you do not comply with my orders.
I will send a list of my demands presently.
Meriwether Archibald, El-Melloi Heir Apparent
It was, in all modesty, an artful bit of nonsense. Oh, I might have managed to summon Miya's husband in ideal circumstances - if his soul hadn't degraded too much, and his leftover thoughts clung to her shrine rather than something else, and I had my thaumaturgical books, and I had my father's talent...and a thousand other "ifs".
But Miya didn't know that.
The books in MBI's custody discussed summoning theory in the abstract, and for specialists, at that. I was no specialist. My father could have done it. My mother, if given time, might have managed as well. I couldn't.
Miya did know, though, that I had managed to come within a few aces of winning the Sekirei Plan. That just might have been enough to convince her that I was competent by my people's standards, age notwithstanding.
My speculations about Miya's bounded field were a particularly inspired touch. I hadn't the foggiest how she'd developed that crime against nature. And it wasn't as if her husband had used such a thing in life. (Or so one would assume).
"Now what?" Benitsubasa said.
"Now? Uzume will arrive, and we'll wait and see if my little bluff wor-"
Something pulled at the edge of my consciousness. I returned my focus to Uzume.
...And wished I hadn't.
The bag had dropped on the ground. Pieces of Miya's shrine were scattered in the dirt. A bounded field around Uzume undulated and swirled like a pool of oil. Its customary purple had darkened to black. Uzume's strips of cloth moved slowly in that inky haze, as if they were pushing through water. They trembled nevertheless.
And the noise.
Woodblocks banged together by the thousands. My (our? Uzume's? I couldn't tell anymore) ears throbbed in pain. I heard screams. The demon masks had multiplied into a wall. They grinned, and stuck out their tongues, and spat. Other shapes floated through the void. I forced Uzume's eyes to squint, and saw the form of a soldier. He'd been cut nearly in two. I didn't recognize the uniform.
And then, I saw his comrades.
Bodies upon bodies. It was like a serial killer's dimensional closet. Severed torsos. Severed heads. Wrecked helicopters burned, their plumes of smoke dissolving into the darkness. Two halves of a warship floated far in the distance. It was an enormous hulk of a thing, looking like nothing so much as the remains of a decaying whale. Specks surrounded it like a cloud. The distance was so great that it took me time to realize that they were the former crew.
So these were the victims of the first Disciplinary Squad.
The void parted. A lady in white stepped through it. Her wooden sandals did not make a sound as they stepped through the void.
Her voice was so very soft.
"Uzume," she said. "Violence at Izumo House is prohibited. And so is desecration."
So great was the chill that Uzume's lips and jaw responded sluggishly.
"F-for my Ashikabi's sake," she said. "S-sorry, Miya. But I'll f-fight you for it."
Miya's face did not move, but she nodded.
"Then I am sorry as well, Uzume."
Fabric bolts lashed out. They met a glint of metal, and fell to the ground as shredded rags.
And then, those deep purple-in-purple eyes fixed Uzume's vision in place. I felt something beyond physical fear. It was as if my existence was shuddering.
"I see you in there, Meriwether," she said. "And I'm coming for you next."
I tugged on my consciousness like a rabid dog against a leash. The white figure blurred as she raced at Uzume. The sword flashed.
I collapsed backward, and found myself staring at the meeting room ceiling again. Glass table. Benitsubasa looking worried. Pearl-colored lighting fixtures. Windows. The cityscape below.
Higa had bolted from his chair.
"What happened?" he said. "Did Miya agree to the terms? Has Uzume double-crossed us? Did-"
"Time for Noritos," I said. "We're about to have company."
June 5th, 2012, 08:10 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
We watched the wall of computer screens. Each showed a different angle of our would-be intruder. A black void hung around her. Her sword was out, while the other hand clutched a sheath. Her knuckles had whitened, and the sheath's lacquer gave off a sheen under the street lamps.
Miya stepped through the first bounded field.
"Contact," said Kochou.
Green sparks flew. Arcs of energy crackled down Miya's body, bathing her like water trickling from a basin. Yet no smoke rose from her skin. The void that cloaked Miya flared outward. My thaumaturgical lightning dimmed, and then died.
Miya must have changed clothes when she'd returned her husband's remains to Izumo. Her traditional outfit - whatever Kochou had called it - had disappeared. In its place, she wore a black miniskirt, gray cloak, and double-breasted jacket that I recognized from Karasuba. Miya's old Disciplinary Squad uniform.
The cloak fluttered in nonexistent wind. Shadows crawled through the folds of her sleeves. No...not shadows. Emptiness. And yet she still strode toward the compound at a measured pace. Head up, eyes forward.
No matter. I'd poured considerable time, ingenuity, and prana into the second field - not to mention the area's own ambient mana - and had even customized it against Sekirei physiology.
"Contact with main bounded field in four...three...two..."
As it turned out, Kochou had miscalculated. Contact came a second early.
It looked like someone had ignited a warehouse of fireworks within a ten foot radius. Green, red, and yellow flared out of nowhere. The air hissed, crackled, and finally screamed. The paving stones beneath Miya's feet shattered. It was as if the bounded field was digging into the ground, trying to gain purchase to push Zero-One back.
As winds carried the cobbles away, the earth underneath was torn apart. Chunks of dirt the size of footballs uprooted themselves. When they passed near the arcs of energy, they were torn to dust, as if pulled between two magnetic fields. Those that struck the arcs directly were simply vaporized.
Miya's pace slowed. She lowered her head and took deeper steps. The motion resembled a woman pushing through a snow drift or blustering winds. She stretched out her palm. A black hemisphere formed.
Thaumaturgical lances wrought from lightning and fire beat away at Miya's shield. They prodded, punched, and probed. Dents formed. And yet, Miya trudged forward.
The black hemisphere shattered. I smirked and waited for the inevitable.
Globes of light exploded in her face. Knives forged from crimson light rained down. Winds bit, and cut, and wrenched at her purple hair. Her skirt tore. She stumbled. And again. Flames scorched her legs, and blackened any skin they touched. She was practically wading through fire now.
The bull and the matador.
A burning dart in her back. A lance of light through her chest. And yet for all that, the Disciplinary Squad uniform had held up admirably. Whatever MBI had made the thing out of, I now understood why she'd chosen to wear it.
Higa grabbed my collar.
"She's going to make it through!"
"Oh, no she's not."
I held up my fingers and snapped.
If you've ever seen ripples spread across the water, imagine the process in reverse. All along the bounded field's periphery, blue rings of light formed and raced inward. Miya's progress stopped. The air rumbled with the sound of thunder. Force lines formed a cage around Miya. There would be pyrotechnics. And they would be contained.
It happened quickly. An instant, really. Too short to see. I can only recount the aftermath: a smoking crater, red and molten for twenty yards around.
And the explosion had been silent. The final remnants of the containment field glittered in the air like blue fireflies.
"Oh, for the love of..."
Miya was still there.
She was burned, she was cut, and she was bleeding. More importantly than all of these, though, she was angry.
The world, in my experience, is fond of playing with loaded dice.
"All right," I said. "We have Noritos ready. Let's just wait for-"
With a lazy sort of motion, Miya swept her sword across the space in front of her. The air distorted. The wave moved too quickly to track it visually. I only saw its results.
Glass shattered. The lobby's metal frame sheared, bent, and crumpled. Rivets tore. Steel shrieked and groaned, and the granite cracked. The building shook as if it had suffered an earthquake.
I glanced at the lobby's cameras. Higa's security guards were dead. The wave had hit most of them directly. They were scattered about in varying degrees of dismemberment.
"Ichiya, Toyotama, Kochou," Higa said. "You will stop Miya."
Ichiya practically shrieked as she jabbed her finger at the screens.
"Did you see that?" she said.
Higa pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.
"Yes, I did," he said. "And I need time to escape."
Ichiya's eyes widened. For the first - indeed, the only - time I'd ever seen it, her lip quivered slightly.
"Y-you don't mean that we're supposed to-"
"Ichiya," he said. "You and your sisters will die for your Ashikabi."
I am not sure precisely what it was about Higa's order that disturbed me. Perhaps it was the calm, collected way that he delivered it. Magus-like, almost...but only a regular person playing a magus. I've occasionally wondered whether it was simply the grotesque sense of recognition that I found so bizarre.
Or perhaps I'm not quite the magus that I like to believe myself.
Whatever it was, I found that I did not want to see the helpless, lost look that Ichiya gave her Ashikabi. At last, though, she straightened to attention.
"I...Of course, Lord Higa."
Kochou merely nodded.
Toyotama's reaction was somewhat different. It was a tentative sort of gesture; painfully so. An outstretched hand, grasping at Higa's sleeve.
"Just for a moment...I...Please, Lord Higa, just let me say goodb-"
He shook her off.
"Time, Toyotama. Get going."
She rubbed those beautiful blue eyes - the eyes I'd found so attractive, in a detached, aesthetic sort of way. A shame that they would probably be pulverized with the rest of her.
And so they went. Higa ran for the stairs. His Sekirei followed him, presumably to assume blocking positions.
"Get going," Benitsubasa said.
"I don't know about you, Benitsubasa, but I prefer to wait for Miya to come to me rather than-"
Benitsubasa grabbed my shirt and shoved me against the wall. She was shaking. Unlike so many times in the past, I suspected that it wasn't from anticipation.
Oh, I knew Benitsubasa well enough to recognize that it wasn't fear for her own sake. The girl had the self-preservation instincts of an alcoholic lemming.
But for my sake, on the other hand...
Sounds of slaughter came from downstairs. Benitsubasa's voice rose over them.
"I meant leave," she said. "Higa's right. Go down the fire escape. Or use your reinforcement to jump out the window. Or something."
"You must be joking."
She nearly threw my back out of alignment when she slammed me into the wall again. It was the hardest I think she'd ever hit me.
"An El-Melloi dies on his feet."
Benitsubasa's hand twitched. A tremor ran through her arm as she released me. She sank back.
"You're...the stupidest man alive. You know that?"
"And you've served me marvelously despite my faults. What sort of Ashikabi would I be if I let you die alone, eh?"
Benitsubasa rolled her eyes.
"You also suck at inspiring speeches," she said.
"I'm a realist, not a children's book author."
I kept my arms crossed behind my back. It wouldn't have done to let my Sekirei see me shaking.
Benitsubasa put her hands on my shoulders. It was gentle this time. Barely a touch. She spoke quietly.
"I want you to listen to me, please," she said.
I heard a shriek from the stairwell. It cut off abruptly, followed by the sound of something thumping down the stairs. So much for Higa's 'escape'.
Benitsubasa rested her forehead against mine. Moisture from her eyes dropped onto my own cheeks. It was warm, and calming, somehow.
"I love you," she said.
"I...er-realize that you-"
"No," Benitsubasa said. "I love you. I'm going to die protecting your sorry ass in a minute, so listen to me!"
"Humans can dance around things, or pick the wrong guy, or fall out of love. Or arrange a marriage, like your emotionally constipated parents want you to do. But I'm Sekirei. D'you get that?"
She grabbed my hand and held it to her heart. Somehow, it didn't occur to me to complain that the gesture seemed overblown, or histrionic, or indecent. It simply fit, somehow.
"Shut up and listen!" she said. "All that crap that you humans spout in your love songs? It's true for us. Heart and soul. Forever and ever. Pick your cliche."
"You don't even like me, though-"
"You're a royal pain in the ass, yeah! So what? You're smart. You're occasionally funny. You're a ruthless son of a bitch who kidnaps, blackmails, and poisons people to win a game. And unlike every other woman on the planet, I think that's smoking HOT, because I'm almost as much of a psychopath as you are."
"You stood up to Karasuba to save me. You took on Minato in the girliest fistfight I've ever seen, just because you didn't want Kazehana to cut me up. You're about to die with me. So yeah, Meriwether Archibald El-Melloi. I love you. And my body knew exactly what it was doing when it chose you."
Her voice trailed off a bit. It was smaller now. She looked away.
"And...I know you don't love me back, okay? I-I've made my peace with it. But can you just...pretend? Just for a minute? Please?"
I found myself nodding.
Miya's sword rattled up the steps like a cup dragged across prison bars. I doubted anything short of a nuclear blast would blunt it.
Benitsubasa kissed me.
Her lips touched mine very lightly as she cradled my head in her hands. There was no exchange of saliva, or dental exam with her tongue, or anything of that sort. Just soft lips caressing mine, and a whining sort of moan as wings of light grew from Benitsubasa's back. My awareness of everything else vanished with the feeling of closeness to her body. And warmth. A hazy blanket over my senses.
When we broke, I found myself disappointed that it was over.
As I'd noticed before during Noritos, Benitsubasa's eyes were dilated, and her skin flushed. She had a contented smile that she might have worn when we were working in the safety of my workshop, instead of a wrecked building waiting to die.
Her face changed in an instant, though. Calm. Emotionless. Professional. Everything I'd ever asked of her. More's the pity.
"I'll hold her off," Benitsubasa said. "Charge up whatever you've got. I'll try to buy you time for a ten-count Aria, 'kay?"
She put a finger to my lips.
"Later. Don't ruin my high. I might love you, but you're better at spoiling a moment than anybody I know."
And then, Miya opened the door.
Benitsubasa chanted her Norito. It was a bit like a two-count Aria, except for the magnitude of the change. Her pink gloves blurred. She grinned.
"Hey, Zero-One. What kept you?"
Miya gave a tight smile in reply.
Benitsubasa flew forward, fists swinging. Most were pulled before they reached their target, as Miya moved her sword into their way. The others missed. The air whipped through Miya's cloak with each blow.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am no expert in spiritual evocation. Some other spells, though, are another matter. Especially given sufficient time.
I started chanting.
She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you
Out on the rocks where the tide has rolled you...
Benitsubasa batted a thrust away, her palm striking the flat of Miya's blade. And again.
Benitsubasa's foot lashed out. Miya lowered her head a fraction, and the kick passed over it. Rather than arrest the motion, Benitsubasa cross-stepped, approaching her opponent from the side. When her back had nearly turned, she thrust out her rear leg, adding a little hop for momentum. It did not land. Miya planned counterthrust stopped in mid-step, though.
My Aria continued.
...Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken—
The blade flashed, and blood splattered on the carpet. Benitsubasa's arm hung at her side, dripping. Flecks of red flew each time she moved.
Benitsubasa leaped back, and then launched herself into the air in an upside-down pirouette. Her legs rotated like helicopter blades. It seemed both fiendishly complicated and impractical to me, but somehow she managed to land on the flat of Miya's blade. She flicked out her leg. Miya ducked and swung her sword into the wall in the same instant. Benitsubasa crashed through it.
I finished chanting.
...Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters.
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And look at your ship in her winter-quarters.
Ah, what is woman that you forsake her, and the hearth-fire and the home-acre, to go with the old grey widow-maker?
"Get back!" I shouted.
Benitsubasa jumped to the side.
Water spun in a cyclone above me. The wind that surrounded it glittered with shards of ice, each sharpened to a scalpel's edge. I poured everything I had into that spell; nearly all of my reserve prana. My circuits burned, and shrieked at me to stop. I kept going. The water roared above me, a tidal wave in the making. I pointed at Miya. A hundred tons of pressurized water, wind, and blades hurtled toward Miya.
She raised her sword.
The cyclone simply parted. Ice blades, high pressure water, and razor wind split down the middle where the metal touched it. Each half collided with the wall behind her with a deafening crack. They punched holes the size of locomotives.
I caught myself saying a word that no magus should ever say.
And Benitsubasa's Norito had run out.
What happened next was not the valiant, successful struggle of an outmatched everywoman against impossible odds. It was an execution.
Benitsubasa still moved faster than most humans could follow. It didn't matter. Everything was sluggish. Dodges came too late. Parries lacked force. One gash after another, Miya took her apart.
Benitsubasa froze, and looked down. Three feet of metal protruded from her chest. The blade was stained red when Miya withdrew it, and Benitsubasa dropped.
Benitsubasa's Crest vanished.
Suicidal behavior seemed to be contagious that day. I reinforced myself and swung at Miya as best I could.
She swatted me into a wall. I barely had enough prana left to prevent it from killing me outright. I tried to get up, but nothing wanted to cooperate.
Miya stood over me, and picked me up.
I had always imagined as a boy that I would face death with dignity. That I would set my jaw and gallantly stand in the face of overwhelming odds like the scion of a noble house that I was. Unflinching, carved of granite.
Instead, I heard myself giving Mia a sick, sobbing laugh.
"Go ahead," I said.
Miya's brows furrowed, even as her eyes widened ever so slightly. It probably didn't mean much in the scheme of things.
"It doesn't matter anymore," I said. "The Clock Tower's going to kill me. I've shamed my family. And you've just killed one of the few people I've ever cared about."
And somehow, this was true.
Whenever the spirit of morbid curiosity strikes me, I run my speech to Miya through my mind. It is, quite possibly, the most senseless stream of words that has ever issued from my mouth.
In the grip of something monstrously inhuman, sane people feel fear. I'd felt it often enough in the past. And yet Benitsubasa's body had become a nexus of sorts in my mind; a bleeding astronomical phenomenon around which other thoughts orbited.
I leaned as close to Miya's face as the blade permitted me. The skin on my neck parted.
"Go ahead and kill me," I said. "My father's going to come looking for me with enough Freelancers to make the Sekirei Plan look like a bad joke. What d'you think the Clock Tower will do when they find out? Eh? An alien race with magic circuits in the hands of regular humans? They'll take your foul, murdering species before MBI can make your existence public."
In my more rational moments, even I - no stranger, I am told, to hypocrisy - have reflected that 'murderous' seemed a trifle melodramatic from someone who would have gleefully dissected most of Miya's species. (Save one.) But then, I was not thinking terribly clearly at the time.
In any event, Miya smiled softly. The sword pricked my throat.
"Others have tried that before," she said.
"Ha! Hahaha! You actually believe that, don't you? You honestly believe that you're so mind-numbingly terrifying that...Do you even know what exists beyond Shin Tokyo? I've met people who can reverse causality. Blow up mountains with a word. Raise the dead. Create private realities out of their own warped perceptions. Summon ancient spirits who can destroy worlds...I know a man whose bullets can flash-fry anything with prana. A man who, incidentally, killed his own father to halt his research into vampirism. Oh yes, vampirism! We kill those, too. Our Enforcers exterminate things that would make your flesh creep, Sekirei. So go ahead. Sign your species' death warrant..."
At this point, it became obvious even to me that I was babbling. But I didn't care.
Miya smiled that polite not-quite-smile.
"I have a better idea," she said.
Miya dropped me - knowing, perhaps, that I couldn't move very far anyway - and thrust her hand into my pocket. It emerged with one of the parchments I'd used to make my deal with Higa.
…And I realized, to my surprise, that I was disappointed that she hadn't carried out her threat.
My eyes were moist, and my chest constricted. For some reason, though, I did not reflect on how unprofessional the whole thing looked, or how I should be ashamed of myself. The sensation was simply there, and it would never go away.
A girl I cared about was gone.
Miya pulled out a pen. It was marked with Higa's company logo, and I could still see blood on it. It was this final, twisted touch that sticks in my memory. Miya had stopped to collect a pen from Higa's corpse.
She wrote her terms, and ordered me to use whatever magecraft was necessary to make them binding.
"Oh, and Mr. El-Melloi?"
"Don't forget that Matsu has kept me informed about MBI's translations of your books. Including those that discuss geis contracts. Don't try anything."
I will observe in passing that waiting to die is far easier than committing suicide by provoking your own execution.
At swordpoint, I signed them.
The contract's terms were as follows: I would conceal the existence of Sekirei from the Clock Tower. Not "do everything in my power to conceal" the existence of Sekirei. Conceal. Best efforts didn't matter. If I tried and failed, the consequences would be the same.
"You know, Mr. El-Melloi," Miya said, "I would love to kill you right now. But I think you've doomed my species anyway. I prefer watching your soul tear itself apart from the inside...and if you succeed, I'll probably kill you later."
And with that, Miya gave me a nod and walked out.
I slumped into the wreckage next to Benitsubasa's body. As I knelt there, I experienced an unwelcome feeling for the first time in years. Or an unwelcome thought, if you prefer.
I had absolutely no idea what to do.
June 5th, 2012, 08:16 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
I knelt next to Benitsubasa's body until the sun rose. The day passed. Evening came, and I was still there. And night again.
I heard the sound of MBI's helicopters. The windows were gone. Sunlight, dew, and bugs had invaded the former office space. Nature coming to reclaim its own, I suppose.
Right. The helicopters. My prana supply had not recovered by that time, but I had enough left to fire a blast of cold air. It nearly knocked one of them out of the sky. They kept their distance after that. It was blatant magecraft use by most standards, but I couldn't bring myself to care much. They would not take Benitsubasa away from me.
And so, I set to work.
Higa and his Sekirei lay at the bottom of the steps. The former Ashikabi of the East must have rolled a fair distance before coming to rest, since his legs were contorted at impossible angles. His head rested a bit further away.
Toyotama, Ichiya, and Kochou were in somewhat more intact condition, except for the pool of blood that glistened, semi-coagulated, on the floor. Perfect holes had been placed where their hearts had been, fractions of an inch wide and a body-length deep.
"You can fix this," I muttered. "Just like an exam..."
But it wasn't, really.
The building itself had become a grotesque mixture of open, twenty-first century furnishing and wreckage. I passed from carpeted hallways to bare wires, gushing pipes, and torn concrete - and back again.
Drag Higa's Sekirei up the stairs.
One. By. One.
I blinked. Someone had tuned my eyes out of focus and forgotten to fix them. I rubbed my face and felt dried sweat and grease. I unbuttoned the top of my robe. Not that it helped.
My muscles had a drained, hollow feeling. The pain in my stomach - very slight, but irritating - conveyed the lie that I was hungry. When it churned, I reinforced my limbs to finish the job. If reality believed that I needed to rest when there was work to do, then it was clearly mistaken.
Oh, I had plenty of dead bodies. Besides the Sekirei, I mean. One could almost feel the ambient leftover thoughts. I picked a few spare pieces of consciousness and got to work.
Technically, the Clock Tower frowns upon human familiars. But then, sentience does not always equate to "human", and the Sekirei fit nicely into that slot. Not that I would have cared overmuch about what my peers considered distasteful.
I needed fighters, and I needed someone who understood computers. So I'd make them.
First, though, I chanted the necessary Arias to preserve Benitsubasa's body.
Body, not corpse. Or so I kept telling myself. Sekirei are a durable species. Only a so-called Level 5 Termination will kill them, and I wasn't sure whether Miya's blade had done enough damage to kill Benitsubasa.
I hoped not. If I could revive her and somehow reconstitute the Crest...
Not now. Preserve first. Plan later.
And so I preserved. Benitsubasa's slender, wiry, once-attractive body had already paled, but it would not decay. Not now, anyway.
When I'd finished the task, I created three new familiars from Higa's Sekirei. It took most of my remaining prana, but I repaired their hearts and muscles enough that they could do a passable imitation of walking. I'd heal them completely later, when I had more energy.
Morning dawned again. Day-without-food-and-sleep number whatever.
And now for the minds. I ultimately opted for a patchwork. Most of the pieces of consciousness came from Higa's Sekirei themselves, and the majority of the rest came from Higa. There was a certain poetic quality to the arrangement, I thought. Higa and his Sekirei reunited in death. Toyotama wouldn't need to say goodbye after all.
I stopped working when could feel prana flowing along a thread from my body to theirs. Like Benitsubasa, they did not consume much. And there ended the comparison between the girl who had fought by my side and these ghouls.
A new pain now bloomed in my chest - all the more bitter for being imposed, rather than chosen. For the thousandth time, I cursed myself for carrying the geis parchment in my coat, where Miya had taken it and forced me to craft my own cage with it. Not that it mattered now. I was going to kill the landlady eventually. Oh, yes.
But first, I needed Miya's help.
I carried Benitsubasa's body bridal-style, shielding her from what had become midday sun. Driving off MBI's troops had been, at best, a temporary solution. The Disciplinary Squad would come for her soon. And I hadn't even slept. How long?
I couldn't hide from their satellites. I couldn't fight them. Miya could.
She wouldn't agree, of course, but I needed to ask just the same. It wasn't as if I'd lose anything by asking. My life, maybe. But that was already inevitable, one way or the other. I had no choice. And Minato was just the sort of compassionate imbecile that he might prevail upon Miya to guard a wounded Sekirei. Despite everything that I'd done to him.
As the weight of Benitsubasa's body rested in my arms, I found that I almost admired Minato for his stupidity.
I walked the long road to Izumo. My new familiars hobbled behind me. I tried to play through a chess game in my head, but found that I couldn't keep the positions of the board straight anymore.
One hundred steps.
And start again at one.
We walked for a while longer.
The Inn came in sight sometime after I-didn't-care-when. And then, I stopped.
Stared a while.
My familiars stopped as the prana flow abruptly cut off. I'd been inattentive. But then, I had cause for inattention.
Izumo Inn had been demolished.
Roof tiles were scattered throughout the area. The fence was broken, and the lawn was marred by gouges of dirt that one could almost describe as craters. The entire second floor had been sheared off, with only splintered wood remaining. I laid Benitsubasa's body on the ground.
I stepped through a hole in the fence. My familiars weren't combat-ready anyway, so I left them to shamble around outside. I was reasonably certain, though, that I could order them to evacuate Benitsubasa's body if I encountered trouble. Provided I stayed alive long enough to feed them prana.
The rice paper screens had either been smashed outright or punctured with quarter-inch diameter holes. The latter looked as if someone had fired an automatic weapon, except that I didn't see bullets. The latticed wood frames that had held the paper panes together were snapped.
It smelled of burnt turpentine and ozone. Something like that, anyway. Glass from the overhead lightbulbs had broken across the floor, where the remains of shattered windows glittered beside them. Yellow flowers from a broken vase were scattered. The water had already dried.
"I want to make a deal. Hello? Anyone?"
No one replied.
"Whatever you want for keeping Benitsubasa's body safe. Really, anything. My negotiating position's very flexible at the moment."
I shoved a door aside. It had broken off its hinges, and scraped along the reed mats when I pushed it. While my footsteps did not echo, their sounds in that empty house were hardly cheerful.
Something hit me in the chest. Hard. It was white, and human-sized. Whatever it was, it caught me in the solar plexus. I barely had time to gasp for air before I was propelled over the table (a polished, rather angular modern piece held up by two triangular supports rather than by traditional legs, which-)
We landed. My assailant and I rolled onto the mats. He smashed a fist into my face. Pain flared. I tried to wriggle away, but he shifted his weight onto my chest. And kept punching.
"YOU WON'T TAKE KUSANO! D'you hear me?"
Sometime between blows to the head, I remembered that I could reinforce myself. I did so, and shoved him off.
...Only for something to wrap around my throat. Thick, whiplike cords wrapped around my arms and twisted them behind my back. Pressure built in my head. I could feel my eyes throbbing.
"ruuuiiighurk!" I said.
Or something to that effect. I admit that I'm not terribly coherent when blacking out from strangulation. I reinforced my neck. The cords just constricted that much more tightly.
"Kuu, wait a minute."
Perhaps I was a bit delirious, but I thought I heard an angry, childlike "fuuuurgh!"
The cords loosened. I collapsed gasping. Vines. They were vines, apparently. When I looked up again, I saw a rather haggard-looking Minato Sahashi. His white shirt had bloodstains and dirt on it, and was torn in one or two places as well. His hair was matted. This, in part, was probably due to the gash on the top of his head. His eyes had dark purple rings that could have come from insomnia, bruising, or both, and he was panting.
But what I noticed first was the glare Minato was giving me. I'd never seen him glaring before. As I'd come to learn over the past few days, losing those closest to you does wonders for releasing hitherto untapped emotions.
"What do you want?" he said.
"What happened here?"
Minato's voice rose.
"You didn't know?" he said. "The Disciplinary Squad happened. Because you forced Miya to attack you. Now what do you want?"
"Do you want your girlfriends back?"
"I...what? You're asking me now to-"
"Because I want Benitsubasa back," I said. "Very, very badly. And I'm asking you to help me take the means to revive our Sekirei from MBI."
Minato's hands clenched and unclenched as he continued to stare.
"That doesn't even...WHAT? You terminate Tsukiumi, Musubi, Kazehana-"
"Will you help me or not?" I said.
I gritted my teeth and tried to lean forward, but Kusano's vines pinned me there. The next words felt like bile as I tasted them, but never mind. It was necessary.
"Please help me," I said.
"You think after all you did-"
"I just lost someone I cared about very deeply," I said. "If you don't help, all of our Sekirei are going to become test subjects. Not to mention that Miya forced me to write a geis contract to protect the Sekirei from discovery, so it's not as if I could betray you even if I wanted to."
"Please help me before the Enforcers find us. Because with the way MBI's running this tournament, it won't be long."
For all that Kusano's vines were tightening about my throat, I can honestly say that I wasn't terribly worried. Minato Sahashi was a fool. The sort of caring, morally upright fool that his irritating culture valued highly for reasons I've never understood.
But that probably didn't even matter.
If Minato had been a magus, he might have chosen revenge. Might. Perhaps. But Sekirei are a curious species. That insane, blind, one-sided love is not an easy thing to shake off. I hadn't managed the trick, at any rate, and I'm neither caring nor morally upright. Though I confess, at times, that I have played the fool.
Suffice it to say that Minato's choice was overdetermined.
"...All right," he said. "But your wizard-people aren't our first problem."
"Karasuba has the Jinki," he said.
What are the Jinki?
The question had been festering in my mind for weeks. Months, really. And all I had was a vague prophecy of genocide, from a myth that even Ilya didn't believe.
And so I asked.
"What do you know about the Jinki?"
Minato closed his eyes.
"Before Matsu...well, she was terminated. Karasuba...she came to the house and-"
"While Miya was away?" I said.
Tactically, it made sense. Karasuba had attacked Izumo when the single power that could have stopped her was busy terminating Benitsubasa. That also explained Miya's absence from Izumo Inn: the polite, dainty, smiling landlady was on her way to massacre Karasuba and Co.
But why did Karasuba attack in the first place?
Alas, Minato's answer only complicated matters further.
"WHAT?" I said.
"Last night," Minato said. "Karasuba came with the other Disciplinary Squad members. Said something about Miya breaking the rules of the game by killing an Ashikabi. Since you're still alive, I assume Karasuba meant Higa."
I jerked my head in what might charitably be called a nod.
How on earth had Karasuba managed that? I thought back to the burn marks, cuts, and other assorted scars that my bounded field had left on Miya's body. They had barely annoyed her. She would have had time to recover, as well. That death-filled bounded field would have recharged by the time Karasuba arrived. And with Homura still functioning, the Disciplinary Squad would barely have a numerical advantage, either.
"How?" I said.
When Minato shook his head, the light reflected from unwashed skin. Rather like mine, actually, but not quite as bad. He seemed to be looking at a smudge of dirt on his sleeve.
"I don't know," he said.
"I doubt that even Karasuba could have killed her one-on-one, so-"
Minato glared that unfamiliar glare.
"I said I don't know!" he said.
"Describe it for me."
He looked at the ceiling, moving his arms in a helpless, waving sort of gesture.
"It was like a Norito, I guess," he said. "But weird. Like there was this black halo around her. Not like Miya's demon mask, either. Black light, or electricity, or something. If that makes any sense."
Something cold and clammy began playing my internal organs like piano keys. The proverbial chill ran down my spine.
"Why do you say it like a Norito?" I said.
"Because Karasuba kept muttering something under her breath, over and over. Miya even taunted her about needing a Norito at first."
"It just kept going," he said. "Like she didn't need to worry about burning through energy. When she went after Miya, it sounded like somebody was shelling the place. Even Matsu had no idea what was going on..."
"That's because it wasn't a Norito. Or at least, not completely."
"Well, what was it?" he said.
I rubbed a hand on my face, willing my eyes to stay open. Did these people have tea? Decent tea, and preferably not served in those absurd, handle-less cups? I'd even stoop to drinking coffee. Desperate times, and all that.
"I'll tell you later," I said. "You never answered my earlier question: what are the Jinki?"
"Yes, yes, yes...Matsu died," I snapped. "Tragic. And she told you something about the Jinki beforehand. Now repeat it to me and stop blubbering."
Minato's jaw tightened, and when he curled his fists I was almost curious to see whether he would hit me again. But no.
"The Sekirei landed a long time ago-" he said.
"Eight ships," I said. "Seven landed. Their crews intermarried with the local population..."
Including my ancestors, I thought with a shudder...
"...while the eighth group stayed in suspended animation until MBI defrosted them. But what does that have to do with anything?"
"The Jinki control everyone with Sekirei blood," Minato said. "Bring all eight Jinki together, and you can shut their descendants off."
"Shut them off..." I whispered.
Oh, I was awake now. I realized that I wanted to vomit again, but didn't have any stomach contents handy. Not because the revelation was particularly horrifying, mind. (Though it arguably was). And not entirely because I couldn't stop what was coming, or because I hadn't eaten for days, or because I was tired, or because I was sick, or...Well, I suppose each played a role.
I carried Sekirei blood.
Ergo, at least one of my parents carried Sekirei blood.
So I had a choice, didn't I? Warn them and watch my soul get ripped apart, or conceal the information and risk everybody dying.
Please note: There was no dilemma here. I knew that I would choose to save my family, and what it would cost. It just wasn't fair. Not that I had enough moisture left in my body to cry about it.
I closed my eyes and summoned my last familiar. It had been circling me from a distance for quite some time. I still hadn't sent a message back to my father. Now I would.
Pain bit through my chest as I forced a shaking hand across parchment. I would include a preface to (hopefully) derail some of the geis's resistance, but I doubted that the contract would tolerate my subtle evasion without inflicting consequences.
To His Father Kayneth Archibald, First Lord El-Melloi, KG, D.D., Ph.D., L.L.M. (Tax), Senior Euryphis Lecturer and Head of the Spiritual Invocation Division, Clock Tower, London; Special Consultant to the Hellsing Organization (ret.); Fellow of the Royal Society; Meriwether Archibald, Unworthy El-Melloi Heir Apparent, Sends Greetings With Filial Contrition:
It is written, "De mortuis nihil nisi bonum." It is my hope that, after my own death, you will forgive me for what I have done.
Before I begin, I must first explain that I signed a geis contract. I promised that I wouldn't reveal what I am about to tell you to the Clock Tower. What you do with this information remains, of course, up to your discretion, but I ask that you withhold it from the Authorities until I have failed. I would prefer not to die in the middle of an attempt to fix my mistake.
I do not have long, so this message will be necessarily brief. A company called MBI has collected 108 aliens called "Sekirei". They bond to humans with a kiss. Once a Sekirei does so, the Sekirei can draw prana from the human in a kissing ceremony called a "Norito".
Unfortunately, MBI has seized my books, along with those of another magus. I suspect that one of the most powerful (surviving) Sekirei - a grey-haired sword expert named Karasuba - has used these books to modify the Norito ritual. Probably with Tantric magecraft. She has just used her newfound ability to kill something that the Burial Agency would have had trouble putting away.
Worse, she has seized a group of artifacts called the "Jinki", which will kill everyone with Sekirei blood when they are united. It is a long story, but apparently I have some Sekirei blood myself, which means that either you or mother do as well.
By the time this message reaches you, I will likely be dead. I therefore recommend that you contact Kiritsugu Emiya. I understand that you have worked with the Magus Killer in the past. His fixation on saving lives via murder fits our needs perfectly. Moreover, he lives in Japan. Somehow, I think he will come out of retirement for this party. It is as close as I can imagine to his dream assignment.
One final note: Among the 108 Sekirei, you may find a pink-haired female specimen named Benitsubasa ("Number 105"). I am sure that you have the ability to revive her. As my final request, I beg you NOT to dissect, vivisect, or otherwise tamper with her. If possible, find her another human to bond with. Not a magus, please.
It is unfortunate that I will not live to see Karasuba's fried circuits. Feel free to indulge your curiosity to your heart's content with her. Oh, and give my regards to the Volumen Hydragyrum.
Finally, and with my sincerest apologies for the impropriety of setting it in writing, I love both you and Mother with all my heart. Goodbye, Father.
I remain your loyal (if incredibly stupid) son,
Meriwether Archibald, El-Melloi Heir Apparent.
I took a breath.
"Take this to my father," I said. "Give me enough time to start the operation first."
The bird nodded and flew off. I turned to Minato, rubbing my hands together.
"Now then," I said. "Let's meet up with your sister before we storm MBI, shall we?"
June 5th, 2012, 08:22 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
We arrived at Yukari Sahashi's residence that evening. It was at the end of a hallway with shiny wood floors and offwhite walls which, when combined with the dim bulbs, gave everything an orangeish tinge.
We must have presented the inhabitants with an unusual sight. I'd healed my new Sekirei familiars (and dressed them appropriately for once in their lives), but they retained a glassy, thousand-yard stare. Kusano toddled beside Minato while balancing a potted plant on her head. Neither Minato nor I had changed in a while. We probably smelled unpleasant. And of course, I still cradled Benitsubasa's body.
At times like this, I appreciated mental manipulation spells.
Yukari's white-haired, effeminate male (?) Sekirei opened the door. He froze in the middle of a polite bow to Minato when he saw me. His eyes widened. To my dismay, he wore the same frilly white shirt, bow-tied neck ribbon, and lederhosen that I'd noticed earlier. The outfit seemed rather crumpled, though, and his hair was a mess.
Like most Japanese living spaces, Yukari's apartment was cramped. A bottle of fruit punch rested on a glass-topped metal table in the center of the room, but the desk, floors, and bed were all in better taste, carved out of light-brown wood. Shopping bags were scattered everywhere. Oddly, a shower was connected directly to the main room. Only a curtain and glass wall separated the two. The shower contained several oddly shaped implements.
"Y-you..." the Sekirei said.
"Yes. Me. Good afternoon...Shiina, was it? We want to talk to your Ashikabi," I said.
"SHIINA! GET BACK HERE! I told you not to answer the door when we're having-"
Like her Sekirei before her, Yukari froze in mid-step when she saw me. This reaction, strangely enough, did not appear connected to the fact that she was wearing some sort of fetishized milkmaid outfit. She dropped her riding crop and stared.
Her scream came a second later. She posed, feet apart, and pointed her finger like some sort of deranged attorney.
I turned back to the Sekirei.
"On second thought, you appear to be the brains of this operation. Might I prevail upon you to speak with me for a few-"
"SHIINA! Hold him down while I get my steel-toed boots!"
Shiina sighed. The clack of Yukari's stiletto heels echoed through the apartment as she rushed down the hallway to her room. At least, I assumed it was her room. Its closets were full of flowery dresses that seemed to fall suspiciously within Shiina's size range. I shall refrain from further comment.
"Mistress, are you sure that's a good idea?" Shiina said. "I don't think we have enough birdseed and newspapers left after the last-"
"ENOUGH WITH YOUR DEFEATISM, SHIINA! BAD SEKIREI! VERY BAD-"
"The Disciplinary Squad's about to destroy the human race," I said.
Yukari poked her head out from behind the door frame. She appeared to be wielding a croquet mallet. A carrot peeler was held between her teeth.
"Hrrmph?" she said.
I rubbed the bridge of my nose.
"Minato? Perhaps you'd better...ah..."
"Right," he said.
The explanation took a few minutes, and hit most of the major points: the Jinki's ability to kill everyone of Sekirei descent, Karasuba's termination of Miya, and so on. I was rather pleased to note that Minato omitted some of the details of magecraft. Pointless, but good manners nonetheless.
"So Karasuba got hax powers by having kinky sex with her Ashikabi?" Yukari said.
Yukari's leer at Shiina did not escape my notice. Nor did the way that Shiina seemed to curl in on himself when he saw it.
"Er...basically, yes," I said. "But it shouldn't have been enough on its own, unless whatsisname...Natsuo was a magus himself. He simply wouldn't have had the power to fuel that."
Yukari hmm'd and absently started fondling Shiina's chest. Presumably to facilitate speculation.
"Maybe Karasuba didn't use her Ashikabi for the energy, then," she said.
"But then who-"
"All of those disappearing Sekirei," Minato said. "Matsu said that unwinged Sekirei were just vanishing."
And in that moment, I realized that the Sahashi siblings were not as stupid as I had initially believed. Pathetic and insane, respectively, but not stupid.
It made sense. If Karasuba had indeed used the unwinged Sekirei as batteries (and was not averse to some very inappropriate behavior), she might have been able to amass quite a bit of prana. Enough to kill Miya.
"Minato! We've gotta tell Mom!"
Oh, yes. Their mother worked at MBI, didn't she? And I doubted that Karasuba had acted with MBI's permission when she had initially stolen those books...
"She probably knows," I said.
"Then why didn't she do anything when-"
"Karasuba can use basic magecraft now," I said. "And MBI is in the hands of a somewhat mentally unstable, suggestible, non-magus CEO. What do you think happened?"
For some reason, Yukari's voice grew shriller. A curiously emotional reaction to news of Minaka's deposition, but never mind.
"Yeah, you keep saying that Karasuba can use magic, but where's your proof? Huh? She couldn't have done anything to the Chairman! And he's not crazy, just a little...um..." Yukari said.
I snapped my fingers. My newly acquired "hacker" stood to attention.
"Kochou," I said. "Access MBI's satellite footage of the battle between Miya and Karasuba."
Yukari's computer booted up with a whirr. A flurry of keystrokes later, an image appeared on screen.
Miya stood on the porch, sword in hand. Her pleasant smile was no longer in evidence, though I noticed she wore the same traditional white and purple pseudo-robe I'd seen earlier.
Karasuba leaned on the fence's gate. Two Sekirei flanked her. The blue-haired Sekirei wrapped in bandages I'd met already. The other I'd only noticed peripherally earlier, when she'd escorted Karasuba to my burning house. She had short brown hair, and had a Crest on her forehead.
Karasuba's lips moved.
My "hacker" spoke for her. Fortunately, Kochou proved a competent lip reader. Karasuba's words came out of Kochou's mouth almost naturally.
"Well, well. It's been quite a while, Zero-One. I hope you've learned a few tricks in the meantime..."
"...because I certainly have."
A vortex of black energy swirled around her as she advanced. The sword came out. Miya's sword left its scabbard a moment later.
"MBI's Dog is not welcome at Izumo," Miya said. "And your Norito won't change anything."
Karasuba's smirk showed teeth. Her normally sleepy eyes were open now.
"I think you'll find that MBI's Dog is holding her own leash these days, Zero-One."
A gout of flame erupted between them. Homura walked out of the doorway beside Miya. Fire danced between his fingertips. Karasuba merely clicked her tongue, and the remaining Disciplinary Squad members charged at him.
Karasuba's lips were moving rapidly. Kochou's "translation" kept pace.
I am my pact's promised blade. Let me empty the world.
I am my pact's promised blade. Let me empty the world.
I am my pact's promised blade. Let me empty the world.
Miya's bounded field covered the yard in darkness. Demon masks jibbered and screeched. Corpses appeared, floating beside their murderer. The gutted warship was closer now, hovering where the sun should have been. More bodies hung out of it.
Karasuba sucked air into her teeth, as if drinking the darkness. Black sparks shot up and down the length of her blade. And she smiled.
Her boots ripped the ground apart as she launched herself at Miya. Miya's sword met hers as she dug her feet into the earth. The blow pushed Miya back, folding up the house's exterior wall as it drove her through it.
Miya counterattacked. I do not pretend to be an expert on Japan's two-handed school of swordsmanship. I can only say that the cuts and thrusts blurred into a single stream around the combatants. Whatever techniques they were using, they executed them with machine-like precision. Parries finished before the eye could properly register them. Thrusts stopped instantly, as soon as the attacker realized they would land a millimeter short.
Shiina told me later that Karasuba was the faster of the two. I couldn't tell, to be honest.
The two tore holes in the yard. Miya jumped back, and a shower of gravel rained down. She swung her blade. The air warped. I wondered whether it had made the loud crack that comes from breaking the sound barrier. In any case, Karasuba met Miya's shockwave with a black vortex of her own. When the two collided, the blast filled the entire area with light. The screen went white.
I blinked. The light dimmed.
Miya's bounded field had ripped, and sunlight streamed through.
Karasuba's blade spun. If anything, it moved faster now. Miya set her jaw and charged again.
Parry. Clang. Swipe. Dodge.
And so on.
Miya frowned. I checked my watch. Karasuba's "Norito" had already lasted seven times longer than Benitsubasa's longest attempt during our experiments. And it was far stronger than any Norito I'd ever seen.
Boots and wooden shoes danced elaborate patterns in an ever-deepening crater. A stray wave of energy ripped off the building's roof. Thousands of pounds of wood, furniture, tiles and glass exploded to fragments. A powdery fog settled over Izumo.
Karasuba's grin kept growing. She laughed, and laughed, and laughed. That ashen face had become flushed, and her shoulders rose and fell in gasps. She was not tired, though. It was almost as if she was reacting.
Remarkable, really, how a single slip can end things.
In one moment, Miya was a purple-and-white blur. In the next, she lay neatly bisected on the ground. I had not thought her capable of the look of surprise that had spread across her face. Her eyes became cold and empty. The remains of her bounded field flickered. And then, they died with her.
Karasuba was still crouching where she had finished her charge. Her sword arm was outstretched and bloody. She raised an eyebrow and stood up, walking toward Miya's body. I imagined the squelching sound her boots must have made when she prodded the body. It did not move.
She closed Miya's eyes with her hand. A nod followed. Not a full bow, though.
Homura was already dead, lying in a pool of red water. Haihane's blades and the ice shards from the strange Sekirei with the crest on her forehead had each left their marks.
But Homura had not apparently gone down without a fight. Half of the ice-wielder's body was charred. Haihane's left arm was also blackened, and the blades in her left hand had melted.
"Grab the Jinki," Karasuba said. "The pervert hacker has the last one."
Haihane winced and cradled her arm. She opened her mouth. Karasuba looked at her, and her mouth closed again. Haihane nodded and staggered inside.
Karasuba knelt, and began tracing letters in the dirt with her sword. It was a narrow, jagged sort of penmanship despite the unwieldy instrument. The marks glowed.
My computer Sekirei did not recite the spell itself (for several reasons), but reported what Karasuba said afterward:
"And now, nothing will ever grow here."
She closed her eyes and smiled. It was soft. Peaceful.
"Akitsu," she said.
The Sekirei with the crest on her forehead looked up. She had been nursing her burns with ice.
"Find Takehito's remains," Karasuba said. "IF the Jinki can resummon him, I'd like to experiment a while before I exterminate humanity."
She disappeared inside.
Kochou stopped the recording.
"Well?" I said. "Does that answer your question?"
"Good," I said. "Then let's-"
Both Sahashi siblings' phones rang - Yukari's with one of those abominable 'rap' songs, and Minato's to a collection of beeps that sounded like it came from a "Tele-Video Game".
A picture appeared on both of their screens.
A Sekirei sat in a high, winged chair. A sword rested on her lap, clutched in thin, calloused hands. Her cloak fanned out around her. When combined with the seat back, it gave the impression of a bat's wings.
"Good evening, Ashikabis and Sekirei," said Karasuba. "This is a message from MBI's new Game Mistress."
"That...can't be good," Yukari said.
"It has come to my attention that one of the contestants has been withholding his Sekirei from the collection teams," Karasuba said. "We also have reason to believe that he's planning to storm MBI. Most likely with accomplices."
Shiina swallowed audibly. Minato stiffened. And I admit to feeling none too calm myself. Yukari, on the other hand, actually seemed angry.
"MBI is prepared to offer a reward for their execution," she said. "Any Ashikabi who brings us the heads of one or more of these individuals can stay with his Sekirei forever."
Our faces flashed across the screen, one by one. Along with Yukari's address.
"...Right," I said. "We're leaving."
I ran through my plan in about thirty seconds. I would cast an invisibility spell on Yukari, Shiina, Minato, Kusano, and my two Sekirei familiars (along with myself).
While we sneaked into MBI (or tried to), Kochou would wander around Shin Tokyo in a separate invisibility bubble. As a "Brain Type", she could synchronize with electronic devices telepathically. She would hack into MBI's satellites and blind them, while providing us with as much intelligence as she could.
At this point, Minato phoned an Ashikabi named Seo.
Minato claimed that the fellow was reliable, and had two lightning-wielding Sekirei to boot. Seo offered to serve as a diversion. Minato agreed. So far, so good. I'd welcome help if this 'Seo' person actually came through. In any event, I wasn't giving him our position, so no harm done. I grabbed the phone before Minato could explain where we would be located. And crushed it.
"Time to go," I said.
I threw open the door. Toyotama and Ichiya were already assuming positions at either end of the hallway. Not long now.
I pulled out the knife that Benitsubasa had given me during our "lessons". I was still awful with it, mind you, but it was better than nothing.
Speaking of Bentisubasa, I supposed that I would have to take her body with me. It was either that or lay it somewhere out of harm's way as soon as the satellites went down, but I didn't want to take the chance that MBI would find her. Even with an invisibility field, I didn't want to risk it. That, and I could only revive her with MBI's equipment. If I could just sneak into the tower itself, I could at least revive Benitsubasa long enough to order her to escape.
"Meriwether," Minato said.
"Why are you involved in the Sekirei plan?"
"That's none of your business," I said.
Minato grabbed my shoulder.
"See, no," he said. "It is my business, because I'm going out there with you. I don't want that knife of yours in my back."
Well, well...a little backbone after all. I reinforced my arm and pulled it away.
"I'm dead anyway," I said. "Whether it's Miya's contract, or Lady Barthomeloi, or Karasuba, or my own father."
"That doesn't answer my question."
I ground my teeth. We reached the first floor steps. Toyotama pushed the door open. Quite hard, actually. It clanged when it hit the bricks.
"I'm here for two reasons," I said. "First, to save whichever member of my family gave me Sekirei genes. Second, to save Benitsubasa. The rest of you can go drown yourselves as far as I'm concerned. Is that satisfactory, Sahashi?"
"Yeah," he said. "Satisfactory. Barely."
"Then let's stop wasting time."
June 5th, 2012, 08:36 PM
死徒 Dead Apostle
Shin Tokyo's streets were quiet. Oh, I grant you that the birds still fluttered, and the occasional car drove down the intersections, and even that you could hear air conditioners humming from the windows, but it was almost deserted outside. Traffic lights changed for bare streets. A newspaper blowing across our path like a tumbleweed emphasized the situation rather picturesquely.
No fools, these people.
"You're sure MBI's people can't see us?" Yukari asked for the twelfth time.
"Or hear us?"
"Or smell us? I mean, you and Minato are pretty ripe right now."
I rolled my eyes.
"No, they can't smell us either, Miss Sahashi. Now if you could please be quiet and let me concentrate on maintaining the invisibility field, I'd appreciate it."
"If they could hear us, DO YOU THINK I'D BE SHOUTING AT YOU TO SHUT UP?"
A few blocks away, a thunderclap. Minato's Ashikabi friend must have started his diversion. The night sky lit up. And in a curious reversal, we watched arcs of lightning in the distance lashing upward. Toward the sky.
"Right," I said. "Run."
We dodged lampposts, each other, and the edges of my invisibility field as we ran. Our footfalls on the concrete echoed within my field, but not outside it. Something seemed vaguely off about the streets that night. As I pumped more of the chilly evening air into my lungs, I realized what it was. None of us cast shadows. Odd, really, how irrelevant commonplaces can distress one by their absence.
The Sahashis and their Sekirei skidded to a halt at Yukari's shriek. Shiina grabbed my shoulder. For a moment, the beginning of a snarl worked its way into my throat. And then, I saw the crowd.
Ashikabis and Sekirei loitered perhaps twenty yards away from our position. A female in a red leather bodice and elbow-length gloves tossed a halberd into the air. It spun like a helicopter blade, and then descended. She snatched it with a lazy, elongated motion, like a fisherman casting a net in reverse. Moments later, it flew up again.
A youngish-looking man leaned against a lamppost, stroking unruly strands of his Sekirei's hair. Neon signs reflected in his square-rimmed glasses. His Sekirei was short, and wore a tight, almost open-chested outfit. Something rather like a bladed fork hung on her back.
As for the others, a James Dean impersonator in a tight black shirt had a Sekirei with tufts of hair resembling cat ears, and a bikini that appeared to be made out of strips of nylon. A bit further away, a Sekirei in an ankle-length dress (finally!) tested her katana's edge on her finger.
An emaciated-looking, gray-haired male in a cloak sat beside her. He was tearing off pieces of the curb with his fingers and flicking them against a wall. The impacts had already chipped a hole. A blonde female in a headband tilted her head toward the spectacle and rolled her eyes. Another Sekirei with "44" on her sweater nodded with a sigh.
Sadly, a blade buried itself in my torso, cutting off the inspection rather abruptly (if you'll pardon the pun).
I screamed and fell forward. This time, the sound did not echo. I saw my shadow writhing on the wall, clutching at the thing protruding from my back.
Moving illusions are difficult to maintain at the best of times. When one is also engaged in supporting three Sekirei familiars while trying to strategize and trying to ignore several days without sleep, this effect is compounded.
My illusion dropped. The robe had become warm and wet. I pulled the blade out with another gasp and channeled as much prana into a healing spell as I could. The knife glinting in my hand was short and triangular. It was almost like a Japanese throwing-star except for a vestigial hilt.
I threw Benitsubasa's body as far as I could from the battle. I hoped that it would be far enough.
Naturally, a second knife struck my shoulder. A shock of pain and adrenaline pulsed up my arm. I spun around.
A Sekirei in bandages grinned. Her hair completely covered her left eye (she had caked more eyeliner on her right eye most stage actresses). But what I noticed first was the pair of heat vision goggles that she'd just removed. She raised her blade-gauntlet and waved.
"Yo," she said.
I pulled out the dagger and tossed it away. It probably clattered, but I couldn't hear it over the sounds of clashing steel, breaking concrete, death vortices, out-of-control vine growth, whistling blades on the ends of chains, a quarterstaff cracking skulls, and Yukari singing some sort of war song in mangled English.
Lightning, fire, and beams of energy flared in the night. Everyone was bathed in weird light and shadows.
"Haihane?" I said.
"Yeah...funny thing," Haihane said. "I don't even specialize in throwing knives."
Well, this could have gone better. And if one member of the Disciplinary Squad had already appeared, it was only a matter of time before the others joined them. We needed to finish this soon.
It is always a temptation
For a -
A third knife cut off my Aria. I reinforced my legs and jumped away just before Hainahe's gauntlets closed. They made a snipping sound where my head had been. Haihane jumped from one wall to the other like a cross between a gibbon and a spider. Somehow, her feet kept their purchase despite crouching at nearly ninety-degrees. Her burns from Homura were gone. I could only assume that the Disciplinary Squad had exploited MBI's medical facilities to the fullest.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Sekirei in a blue, puffy dress send Minato flying. His body rolled until a wall stopped its motion. Stopped, but did not cushion.
Minato's body went limp.
Wonder of wonders, I heard Yukari's shriek of rage over the pandemonium. She leaped at the Sekirei's throat, alternately punching her in the face and trying to gouge her eyes with the other hand. I admit that I couldn't quite suppress a feeling of admiration for the little lunatic. Shiina touched the Sekirei's crest while she was still distracted. The Sekirei slumped.
Yukari kept punching.
And once again, I realized that my attention had wandered. Sleep deprivation, no doubt. Unfortunately, I only came to this conclusion when another knife had shredded my forearm. I bit my lip and tried - with limited success - not to scream.
I retrieved my own knife from my coat and lunged. Haihane jumped aside with the same relaxed smile and caressed my shoulder. The blades tore.
I dropped. Haihane kicked the weapon from my hand and put a foot at my throat.
"Well," she said. "I guess that's all she wrote."
I wrenched the blade out of my own forearm. (Which hurt, incidentally). Before Haihane could react, I jammed it through her foot, reinforcing and healing my neck as I did so. It cut me a little. Haihane's foot fared rather worse. She hissed and hopped back. Alas, I was too busy feeling my neck burning in agony to appreciate it.
"Owww...Son of a bitch," she said.
As soon as my vocal cords healed, I chanted a short wind Aria. It was just enough to blow Haihane's hair into her eyes. I shoved her through a shop window.
...And ducked just in time to avoid a halberd swung at my head. Whatever wood and glass hadn't already broken from Benitsubasa's impact went flying. The crash was even louder than expected.
That red-haired Sekirei in the bodice again.
I reinforced my arm and tore a parking meter out of the sidewalk. I swung it. The Sekirei caught it as if I'd just tried to hit her with a fly swatter. My blow's momentum dug her feet into the asphalt, but this was the extent of the damage.
She smiled and twisted her arm. I tumbled into another parking meter.
I stole a glance at the rest of the combatants. The results were hardly encouraging. More Ashikabis and Sekirei had arrived from the surrounding streets. Kusano lay face down in a puddle, her blonde hair spattered with mud. Shiina stood over her. He fired off those decay fields as fast as he could, but they were getting fainter. Minato was bleeding. I noted with a surprising amount of relief that he was still breathing.
I followed the lines of prana to my Sekirei familiars. Toyotama was gone. Ichiya was still fighting, her legs whirling like pinwheels as she lashed out against two attackers. I felt her pain throb from twin holes that the bladed fork had inflicted. The fork-wielder herself was undamaged. She had not escaped retaliation, though. Her Crest was gone. The reason lay a short distance away: her Ashikabi's head had been cracked open by one of Ichiya's kicks. The neck was contorted.
Traffic lights illuminated the scene in alternating red, green, and yellow; a blissful pattern uninterrupted by the battle. I am sure that with less noise, we could have heard the surviving lamps humming.
Ichiya tripped over the body of a blonde Sekirei, who had dressed in what looked like a Jazz Era evening gown. The stumble lasted only fractions of a second, but it sufficed. Another Sekirei drove a katana through Ichiya's heart. When she pulled it out again, the force of the recovery almost split Ichiya in two.
I choked on blood. It was becoming a disturbingly frequent occurrence.
This...was wrong. I'd made mistakes. Of course the Disciplinary Squad would use heat vision, or night vision, or whatever it was called. Kiritsugu had used the same trick against my father's invisibility field during Heaven's Feel.
Glass crunched. The corseted Sekirei rolled her halberd's haft down the length of her arm. She brushed red hair from her eyes.
I scrambled up. As it turned out, it wasn't necessary.
The Sekirei looked down.
A silvery tentacle protruded from her chest, pooling and oozing like molten glass.
And then cut her in two.
The two pieces dropped to either side, revealing a tall man in a blue robe. His hair was gray and combed back in a style that wouldn't have looked out of place in the late 80s, but he stood straight as a ramrod. His hands were clasped behind his back. He did not look happy.
A blob of mercury roughly the size of a table sat beside him. The Volumen Hydragyrum.
"F...father..." I whispered.
Kayneth Archibald, First Lord El-Melloi, did not reply.
The mercury snapped up, reshaping itself from a blob to a hollow hemisphere. A moment later, a dagger on the end of a chain clashed against its surface. Before the dagger could glance off, though, the mercury liquefied around it. It absorbed the weapon like an amoeba eating its prey.
The attacking Sekirei was dragged along with it.
She was blonde, with wide blue eyes and strand of hair that had apparently resisted her attempts to comb it. Her dress's shoulders may have been puffy at one point. Now, the extra fabric merely stuck to her shoulders from sweat. She tugged frantically - and in a random, uncoordinated fashion - at the chain.
But the Volumen Hydragyrum did not wish to eat her. Or even drown her, for that matter. It just wanted to close the distance.
My father stroked his chin as he watched the blob's razor whips tear the Sekirei apart. She flailed, and screamed. The Volumen Hydragyrum did not share her biological limitations. It merely cut in a surgical, detached way that reminded me of my father in his workshop.
Wherever the Sekirei punched or kicked, the mercury gave way. Like a stream meeting rocks, it flowed around her attack. It stabbed and sliced from angles that she'd never encountered. Mercury, you see, does not have bones.
At last, the Sekirei just lay there, moaning and gagging. The Volumen Hydragyrum kept opening new wounds to the night air.
My father watched the Sekirei in silence. She gave a choking whimper. Almost lazily, my father pulled out a tape recorder from his robe and turned it on. Even Lord El-Melloi had accommodated somewhat to the march of time.
"Note seventy-nine," he said. "This 'Sekirei' does not appear capable of significant regeneration during combat. End note."
He switched the tape recorder off.
I was almost relieved when the whimpering stopped.
The rest of the battlefield had fallen silent. Perhaps a dozen pairs eyes stared at the tentacled silver thing and its master. There were murmurings.
"Father?" I said. "Er...I mean, Lord El-Melloi, I still have enough prana left for mental manipulation spells to cover all of this-"
"Silence, Meriwether. You will not speak unless spoken to. Understood?"
I bowed, or at least gave as close to a bow as I could manage with several half-healed holes in my body.
My father turned to the crowd with a thin smile.
"You know, young people these days are rather fond of memory tampering," he said. "I imagine that those integrationists' nonsense lies at the root of it, somehow..."
My father stepped forward. The Volumen Hydragyrum oozed after him. It moved in a two-part motion rather reminiscent of an earthworm. Indeed, slimy garden invertebrates must have been uppermost in my mind that night, since the Volumen Hydragyrum's forming-and-retracting tentacles also reminded me of a snail's stalk eyes.
"...As luck would have it, though, I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to witnesses."
A tentacle shot out. It grabbed the bladed fork from the ground. In the same motion, the tentacle looped around and hurled it. The tentacle elongated as it threw, imparting momentum in the same way that a sling or atlatl might.
With a thump, it hit an Ashikabi. He dropped. The Sekirei with catlike tufts of hair and a black strap bikini collapsed a moment later.
Father's tape recorder clicked.
"Note eighty. Sekirei and Ashikabi appear very intimately linked. Sekirei's termination followed her Ashikabi's death almost instantaneously. End note."
That decided it. While their Ashikabis continued to stare, the Sekirei attacked.
A Sekirei with a katana cleared almost twenty feet in a single jump. Her long black hair whipped around her shoulders. It even continued fluttering when her head fell to earth, severed by a combination of the Hydragyrum's tentacles and a disc of ice that my father had cast. And he hadn't even gestured. His hands remained behind his back as he muttered his Arias.
But he was burning through his prana. It flowed by the ton from his Thaumaturgical Crest, feeding the Volumen Hydragyrum the energy it needed to keep up with its opponents.
A Sekirei with a mop of white hair shed his cloak. He looked more like a boy than anything. His lean arms actually reminded me a bit of Benitsubasa. He wore a black elastic top with a cut-out to display his abdomen, which called to mind once again the fact that Sekirei, as a species, needed to develop nudity taboos.
"These are the palms of my pledge. By my bare hands, destroy the foes of my-"
The mercury sprouted serrated whips. And then, its task accomplished, it morphed into an umbrella shape. Just in time to shield my father from chunks of Sekirei.
I imagine that an element-wielder or two could have blasted their way through my father's pet. A single number like Homura probably could have reduced it to vapor. By and large, though, our enemies had chosen to bring fists, katanas, and knives to a sentient-blob-of-mercury-fight.
My father wiped sweat from his forehead. And the prana continued to deplete.
I realized two things that night.
First, it dawned upon me just how powerful a magus my father really was. I'd known - intellectually - that he stood among the greatest magi of his generation. Now, I saw it. Sekirei prana manipulation had appeared almost effortless to me. My father was making them look like first-generation magi. And they weren't.
More importantly, though, I realized that I would need to do everything in my power to keep him away from Benitsubasa's body. And I wasn't sure how.
Metal cords lashed out. The Volumen Hydragyrum formed a shield. The blow glanced off, but I felt the surge of energy as my father pumped prana into his pet to deflect it. He was gesturing now. Something akin to a compressed hurricane threw the offending Sekirei at a building. Her body crashed through the other side, and kept going.
By now, Haihane had pulled herself up. She brushed the hair out of her eyes with bladed fingers, barely noticing the cuts they left. One of the blades pressed a (surprisingly durable) button around her wrist.
I reinforced my ears and listened. It wasn't as if I could do much more than that, since I doubted my father would have appreciated interference.
"Uh, Karasuba?" she said. "Remember the fight you wanted to have with the souped-up wizard people?"
The microphone warbled in response.
"Yeeeahhh...They're here. And I'm thinking Meriwether's an amateur. We're gonna need Akitsu."
My father pinned two Ashikabis together with an eight foot icicle. The finished product looked rather like a toothpick skewering olives. Three Sekirei deactivated. The Volumen Hydragyrum looped itself around another Sekirei's neck and garroted her.
The microphone warbled again.
"...Um, just a hunch," said Haihane.
More Sekirei were approaching. My father chanted. Fog began rising.
Haihane caught my eye. She grinned, tilting her head toward the alley where I'd tried to hide Benitsubasa's body. Haihane shouted across the street to me.
"Oi, kid! Thanks for Number 105! We'll take goooood care of her."
I felt a cold, rotten, foul sensation gripping my chest. In a particularly stupid moment (amid a growing collection of stupid moments), I drew my knife and headed toward Haihane...and her group of newly-arrived Sekirei.
My father grabbed my shoulder.
"Meriwether. We. Are. Leaving."
"But Father, Benitsubasa-"
I didn't even see the mercury tentacle that hit me.
At least, I infer that it hit me, because I remember floating alongside a pair of chopped-up Sekirei bodies a little while later. And so I flickered in and out of consciousness, carried on a silvery liquid bed. Lulled, no doubt, by a sleeping spell as well.
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