"The target has entered the killzone. Should we engage?"
Allesandro Pierson, Al to all of his friends, watched the tall figure stalking among the gravestones. The rest of his squad of twenty men, each and every one of them Clown 'Fixers', were waiting in ambush for the Hellhound as he walked into the first of the carefully laid minefields along the street.
"Affirmative, blow the first minefield," His commander, a Ghoul known only as Grock, responded via radio from his position in the Arlington house, "Engage him, but fall back as soon as he starts to move towards you. Draw him into the second killzone. Capture teams, be prepared to restrain the target. Defense teams, be prepared for an almost immediate response from the local police and military."
Made it just in time.
Ace moved through the white headstones as inconspicuously as he could, having to fight the need to charge forward. His sense of smell told him that there were at least a hundred Ghoul's in the area, but that didn't make him nearly as uneasy as the eyes of the passersby throughout the cemetery.
He had just taken a turn when the earth around him erupted. He felt his body being riddle with hundreds of steel balls from the area in front of him. Without conscious thought, his koukaku formed across his body, shielding him from the second set of claymores that exploded from slightly further away.
An ambush? Ace thought, clearing his through as concentrated fire from several heavy machineguns and sniper rifles began to cut through his armor, riddling his whole body with holes. Ace leapt into motion, charging up the hill. The Ghouls who had been attacking him leapt from their concealment, falling back. Ace immediately grew weary, choosing to move perpendicularly to their path for a few moments, allowing his body to heal completely. Then he released his kakuja and leapt forward.
"He's bypassed the second killzone, coming straight at us!"
Al ducked behind a tree, heart beating fiercely as the monster charged towards their fallback position. He and his men had all dealt with kakuja before, but this was different. Twice before had he gotten this feeling of dread, and once it had come from one of his compatriots.
"Capture unit, release the Harkonnens!" Grock commanded via radio.
Behind Al, the sound of shrieking machinery signaled the release of the Capture Teams trump card. Three Ghouls, each of them wearing a heavy exoskeleton to compensate for the weight of the weapons and the horrific recoil involved, hefted the weapons attached to the Harkonnen's arms. The suits took the strain of the several hundred pounds of ammunition from them, allowing them to move with an approximation of their natural agility.
Sighting on the charging kakuja, each of the units fired and sent a mix of 20 mm depleted uranium and anti-ghoul rounds from each of their cannons, thousands of rounds a minutes spewing forth at the target.
No way can he survive that!
The Clown known as Grock knew that even the anti-kakuja Harkonnen units could not hope to stop the First King, as much as he knew that most of his team probably thought it would. Behind him, he could hear the Japanese girl, who had killed a handful of his men during the snatch and grab, struggling against her bindings. Turning, he looked down at her, and knew that if he hadn't been pumping Rc suppressants into her system, she would already be attempting to kill him.
Outside, the sound of beating helicopter blades and the hissing of incoming rockets told Grock that his part in the Great Joke was coming to an end.
Ace rode one of the exoskeletons down, having already killed the pilot with a savage decapitation. These had been an honest surprise, and had nearly killed him. However, Ace had discovered a new ability, when he had thrown a Wolf in front of the onslaught and saw it torn from him. But even as it fell to the ground, he could still feel it. A shiver had run down his spine as the Wolf began to writhe, the ground around it erupting into flames. When the flames were done, a wolf, made completely of rinkaku tentacles stood before him, coming up to his shoulder.
And it responded as if it were a part of his body. He could see through its strange, red eyes, could feel the ground beneath its feet.
Immediately, Ace created three more, feeding them from his own energy reserves, even as he defended himself with a pair of large koukaku shields. Then he sent the pack charging forward.
Having finished with the exoskeletons, Ace stopped and looked towards the building in front of him. Behind him, the rest of the Clowns were busy battling his Wolves and the responding police and Army units, in front of him, he could smell Touka and his sister, their scent barely noticeable beneath the stench of rotting Ghouls and gunsmoke. The house from which their scent was coming was large, with six large columns holding up the roof over what seemed to be a normal looking two story home.
Releasing his kakuja, but keeping his Wolves, he kicked in the door, advancing with a koukaku shield and lance. He was immediately met by a hail of ukaku bolts, but Ace dispatched the pair of Ghouls with rinkaku that he sent bursting through the wall beside the door. Advancing into the large room within, he parried a Ghoul with a huge, blue bikaku tail that caused Ace's advance to falter for a moment. Another Ghoul with a koukaku that encased his arm in a large hammer-like casing charged from the side, ripping through a wall to strike at Ace.
Ace ducked, and sent rinkaku tentacles through both of his opponents bodies. Seeing no other opponents near him, Ace slowly crept up the stairs, wary of any traps. But he found none. Instead, he reached the top of the stairs and was struck into silence by what he beheld.
His sisters dismembered body lay strewn across the wooden floors, soaking through the cracks. Her head lay only feet away from the landing, staring up at him with a horrified expression. Several feet in front of him lay Touka, held in the grip of a man wearing a simple, laughing drama mask, his sharpened kagune held at her throat.
"So, the First King is truly as powerful as rumor says he is." The Clown said, "Too bad that you couldn't protect your own sister. And you couldn't protect your little-"
The man faltered as one of Ace's Wolves leapt from outside, crashing through the wall in a flurry of debris and movement. It sent rinkaku tentacles smashing through the Clown's body, but Ace had aimed carefully, and they avoided Touka's struggling form, which dropped forward, falling into Ace's waiting arms as he stepped forward. His Wolf ravaged the Clown, tearing the Ghouls legs from his torso with a savage movement of its head.
Ace used his kagune to cut Touka's bonds, and she angrily ripped off the gag that had kept her from speaking.
"He was the one that did it," She said before collapsing to her knees. "That bastard tore your sister to pieces, Ace!"
"If you…. kill me too…" The other Ghoul coughed blood, "Quickly, though, I won't be able to tell you where to meet the real masterminds." The man said from where he lay bleeding on the floor. Ace could see his body attempting to heal itself, but Ace gave a better than even chance that the man would bleed out.
"Then tell me, now." Ace ordered, stepping forward and leaning down over the man. He'd sent the Wolf to sit in the corner, staring down at them. "Who sent you?"
"Monett, Missouri. A farmhouse. Old… metal… cross…"
The man's eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he lay dead. Ace committed what the Ghoul had said to memory, and then turned to Touka, reaching out and fiercely embracing her.
"I was really worried, Touka." Ace said quietly, even as the sounds of battle outside died down, and Ace was able to watch through the other three Wolves eyes as other Agents and Army units finished putting down the Clowns. He called them back to him, and they began to make their way through the destruction. "I… I… I'm sorry that I didn't stop them sooner…"
"It… wasn't so bad for me, but your sister…"
Ace's jaw clenched, and he refused to look down.
"Let's go. We've got a lot to do, and I've got to explain some things to my bosses."
Several tense days later, Ace and Touka returned home. The Agency had forgiven Ace once they'd seen all of the Clowns, and heard Touka's side of the story, but they had left several guards outside of Ace's home.
He didn't know if they were there to protect him, or if they were there simply to watch him, seeing as he had defeated several of the strongest Agents in the Agency. They had forced him to take an Rc Levels Test, and found that they were off the chart. When they'd asked to probe further, Ace had declined, and luckily, they had respected that.
"So, what's the plan now? You have the beginnings of a place to strike, and I never heard you give your bosses any of that information," Touka asked from her usual place on the couch, far more of her old self having returned after the kidnapping, "Are we going to be taking a trip?"
"Of course. I've got to make someone pay for what they did to my sister, and I've got to find out why that Clown called my 'The First King'," Ace said, eyes never leaving the TV. "I just have to wait for the right moment to move. And… I need to start getting used to these- to my new abilities."
Ace had explained to Touka what he had done, and she had seen firsthand his autonomous Kagune, the Wolves, in action. Even now, as he sat on the couch watching television with Touka, Ace was also seeing and feeling everything the Wolf that was prowling his property felt and saw. Through its senses, he knew that there were twenty Agents in visible positions around his property, along with another dozen in concealed positions.
"Well, you have the Wolves," Touka said, helpfully, even as the scene on the TV changed and drew their attention.
"This is breaking news from the Sapporo Evacuation Center in the north of Japan," Ace grabbed the remote and turned the volume up as the scene on the TV switched to a harried looking woman holding a microphone in front of a huge crowd of milling people, "Denise, what's going on?"
"The defense line holding back the assaults of the Warlord known as Arthur has officially collapsed without the support of the CCG. Thousands have already been killed as the remaining JSDF units attempt to rally." Behind the woman's posh, British accent, the sounds of battle could be heard, "It also appears that the Russian and Chinese Navy's have begun a blockade of the port, stopping any and all attempts for ships to rescue us."
A jet shrieked by behind her, a Japanese attack aircraft, and its cannon roared at a target not too far from Denise' position. This sent the milling crowd into a frenzy, and the reporters look of horror last for only a moment, then she dropped the microphone and joined the fleeing crowd. The cameraman, braver or having less sense than the reporter, panned the camera around, showing a scene of devastation. Tanks were hurriedly reversing across the open field, their machineguns and cannons roaring, even as infantry fled before the horde of Ghoul's right behind them. The camera cut out just as a figure appeared in front of it, stabbing towards the camera with a kagune.
"We have just received a statement, via a phone call, from a man claiming to represent the Warlord Arthur." The stunned news anchor said, looking down at a piece of paper someone had hastily passed him, "In this message, the man, who identified himself only as Sir Kay, had this to say. 'His Majesty, King Arthur, has chosen to make Japan a country ruled by Ghouls, for Ghouls. No interference will be tolerated.' This is…"
"It's worse than it has ever been, even during World War Two Ghouls never fought this way." Ace said quietly, Touka looking at him with eyes wide. He knew that she had grown up in that very country, where the very idea of what she had just witnessed was unimaginable. "Not since the old days, back when Vlad the Impaler was in charge."
"We need to go back." Touka said, her gaze hardening slightly, "We have to… Have to find this King Arthur."
"I know," Ace said, standing, "But… First I have some business in the town of Monett. Then we'll go on a quest to find Camelot."
Getting out of Washington, D.C. was not a huge deal for Ace. But doing it quietly, while stealing everything he thought he would need, was. But, in a large, stolen pickup, Ace and Touka pulled onto the highway, having already made sure that they weren't being pursued. It wouldn't be too long before they were discovered, but he only needed a couple of days to hopefully finish these things up.
After driving for half the day, and being stuck in a several hour traffic jam, Ace pulled off of the highway and found a decent, but still rather seedy motel.
"Oh, hell. I thought I asked for two beds!" Ace exclaimed angrily when they entered the room, seeing only a single bed, turning back towards the door Touka grabbed his arm. "Don't worry, I'll take care of-"
"It's fine. Let's just get some rest."
After showering Ace stepped out into the room, seeing that Touka was reading a copy of Ghoul Magazine with an English to Japanese translator beside her. Not wanting to disturb her, he skipped turning the television on, and instead just climbed into the bed, pulling the blanket up to his shoulders and rolling over to face away from her. He wasn't quite tired enough to fall asleep, but he closed his eyes, and allowed himself to react. That was, until Touka climbed into the bed, and he felt her warmth only inches from him. Then he felt one of her hands touch his shoulder under the blanket, and a shiver ran down his spine.
Stop it! His mind screamed, but he rolled in the bed to face her. Before he knew what was happening, she was on him, lips pressed against his own, and he felt himself pressing back just as hard.
The next morning, Ace awoke in a daze, the left side of his body feeling unnaturally warm. When he looked down and saw Touka nestled into the crook of his arm, his entire body clenched.
Well, it wasn't a dream, that's for sure.
Looking at the clock beside the bed, Ace saw that it was at least a couple more hours before sunrise. For a couple more moments, he basked in the comfort of Touka's embrace, and then slowly and carefully unfolded himself out of the bed. Pulling on a t-shirt and pants, he walked outside and created a Wolf after carefully checking that he wasn't being observed. Then he sent the kagune creature sprinting out into the parking lot, to take up a lonely vigil on the hill overlooking the motel.
Ace had no idea how his life had taken such a turn for the weird. Had it been his destiny to become what he had become? Or was it simple luck that had brought him here? The sound of footsteps behind him, roused him from his inner thoughts. Touka, wearing one of his shirts that was ridiculously large on her, stepped out into the cool morning air beside him.
"I… I don't know what to say." She began, but Ace cut her off.
"Then don't say anything." He turned and brushed a hand across her cheek. "It happened. Nothing we can do to change that. We can only change what happens now or tomorrow."
"So… Um," Touka began, her face taking a moment to harden slightly, "I regret nothing."
"Neither do I." Ace began, pushing her back into the room. "Now, comeon. Time to get back on the road."
After making sure that the load in the back of the truck was still secure, they set off again. Pulling out a GPS that mounted onto the windshield via suction cups, which he had purchased on the first leg of their journey, Touka gave him a questioning look.
"What happened to your phone?"
"I superglued it to a truck heading up towards New York at our first stop," When Touka gave him a questioning look, Ace continued, explaining, "That was an Agency provided phone. They probably have a dozen different ways to track me on it. So, now hopefully my little ruse will throw them off, at least for awhile. We only have another day or two of travel before we get to Monett."
"Ah. So… What will be the plan when we get there?"
"I'll need you to help me scope out the place." He pulled a package he had prepared the day before from the cooler in the back seat. "To do that, I'd like you to eat this."
Touka took the package and looked down at it, before looking up sharply at him. It had been a chunk of flesh from his thigh, that he'd sliced off with his kagune and placed into a Ziploc bag and immediately refrigerated.
"No!" Touka immediately protested, "I'm not even hungry, I… I…"
Ace risked taking his eyes off of the road in front of them long enough to give her a meaningful look. He was attempting to give her what Eto had given him, the gift of more power.
"Please, Touka. I think that this will, this will make you stronger, strong enough to survive against what we're going to face."
Shoulders slumping, Touka looked away, and Ace returned his eyes to the road. After a few moments, he heard Touka open the Ziploc, and begin to eat.
"You taste terrible, Ace." Touka said when she was done, wiping the blood from her lips, "But… I don't know. I feel different now, stronger. Better than I've felt in awhile."
"That's how I felt after encountering the One-Eyed Owl," Ace said, remembering, "Next place we stop, we'll have to test things out."
They stopped before midnight, less than six hours travel from Monett, at what appeared to be an old abandoned camping ground except for one other car which seemed to have been recently occupied. Getting out, Ace immediately smelt the stench of Ghouls nearby.
"Not very smart, showing up here." Someone said from the edge of the clearing. Ace rolled his eyes and climbed down the sidestep on their truck. Touka did the same on the other side, and both of them walked out to stand side by side in the darkness at the center of the clearing. A figure appeared, stepping out into view. "There are Agents out and about."
"Are you also going to Camelot?" The other Ghoul, a tall man wearing the bloody remains of a business suit, smiled at them from out of the darkness, "Did you also hear the call?"
Ace stood in silence, tuning out everything except the sound of feet rustling in the trees around them, of nearly twenty people breathing heavily around them. He could also hear whimpers and little cries from someone nearby as well. The cries of a young woman.
"You're all going to Japan?" Touka said, in mostly understandable English.
"Yeah, we're planning on trying to make it there." The man grinned, "Can you imagine it? A nation of nothing but Ghouls!" The man laughed, and then seemed to sober, "Are you hungry? We have a light snack if you all are."
Touka was about to respond with a no, but Ace returned the man's smile and nodded.
"It's been a long trip for us, and neither of us have had a chance to get anything," Ace said, stepping forward, and offering his hand to the other man, "We'd love whatever you all have to offer. The name is Don."
"I'm Gabe, nice to meet you." The man said, eyes flicking to someone behind Touka and Ace for a fraction of a second, and Ace turned to see that three more men had appeared behind them, apparently without Ace having been able to hear them. "These are my compatriots, Zabizu, Nero and Harold, formerly of the FBGI."
Shit. Ace thought, knowing that if those men saw his face clearly they'd know exactly who he was. A woman's scream drew attention away though, and Ace grabbed Touka's hand out of reflex.
"Ah, it appears dinner is served." Gabe said, gesturing in the direction of the scream. Ace and Touka were led over to where a young woman was lying on the ground, clothes ripped. Next to her was the headless and partially consumed corpse of a young man. Gabe laughed at Ace's expression, "We caught them getting busy. The boyfriend didn't even know what was happening before Zabizu tagged him."
The large, black ex-Agent, grunted in response, crossing his arms in front of him. The other Ghouls that had surrounded the campground when Ace and Touka arrived filtered in, looking on with pleasue as the Ghoul known as Nero grabbed the woman by her hair and lifted her to her feet.
"This one smells pretty good, but maybe our guests will…" Nero trailed off, finally looking Ace full in the face, and seeing his strange glowing kakugan. "Hey, wait, you're-"
A rinkaku tentacle snaked out from Ace's back and stabbed Nero through the center of his forehead, dropping him and their would-be victim to the ground.
"What do you think you're doing, you son-of-a-bitch!" Gabe cried, a koukaku appearing.
"My job." Ace said simply turning towards the largest concentration while surreptitiously beginning to form a pair of Wolves behind him, "And you'd already be dead, if I didn't want to give my lady friend here a chance to try out some new abilities."
Their eyes flicked to where Touka had been standing. She was no longer there.
Something flashed by overhead, streaking in towards Zabizu. Ace could barely keep up with it, until it stopped moving. A pair of wings, blue and seeming to be made of thousands of layers of crystal, stretched out behind Touka, much larger than her older wings. Electricity discharge between them, and the air hummed with its sound. The rest of Touka had changed as well. A mask that looked like a falcons' beak that left her kakugan exposed, made up of the same layers of crystal as her wings, covered her, and strange pulsating kagune ran along her limbs, covering her from head to foot.
"This power, is indescribable, Ace." She said, her voice warped. In her hand was Zabizu's head, which she casually threw to the ground, just as the man's headless body crashed down a dozen meters behind it.
"Tell me about it." Ace said, as he set his Wolves chasing after a few of the men who had fled. Someone slashed at him, and he was forced to dodge to the side as the ex-Agent Harold attacked him. The Ghouls pink rinkaku almost grazed his abdomen, but Ace twisted to the side. "Hey, buddy, mind telling me what this message you all got was?"
Harold apparently didn't want to talk, and instead attacked again. But Ace was ready this time, and split his abdomen open with a vicious thrust of a koukaku lance. Then everything went quiet, leaving only the heavy panting of a heavily wounded Gabe, and the terrified young woman.
"Comeon, man, what the fuck is wrong with you!" Gabe cried out as Ace approached. His Wolves returned, their bellies full of Ghoul flesh. He still had yet to figure out who they worked completely, but he had found that they were able to extract the Rc cells from any flesh they consumed, and transfer it back to him when they returned to him. He held out a rinkaku tentacle to each, and they seemed to dissolve, the energy they contained draining back into Ace.
"I'm an Agent, fool," Ace said, stepping on the man's chest, where Touka had apparently driven an armored hand into his stomach and tore out his entrails. "It's my job to stop you from doing this kind of stuff. And especially with three rogue Agents. Now, what was this message you were talking about? About Camelot?"
"Will you let me live? If I tell you?" The man begged, likely to not survive anyways. Ace nodded, "Okay. A video on Youtube was posted a few days ago, made by someone called 'Lamorak'. Tall guy, white hair, Chinese. Alone." Gabe was having a hard time breathing with Ace's foot on his chest, so Ace eased off a bit. "T- Thanks… Before it was taken down, like a billion people saw it-"
"What was it about?" Ace asked, applying a little pressure to emphasize the last word.
"He- He said that Japan was now open to immigration, by order of the Once and Future King. That any Ghoul who sought them would be received." The man stumbled over his words, before continuing, "It seemed like a joke, but then you saw the news last night, right? So… So, are you going to let me live?"
"Yep. I'm going to let you live."
Touka drove her foot down, smashing Gabe's head in before he even had a chance to register alarm.
"Never said that she wasn't going to kill you." Ace said, meeting Touka's wild eyes. He approached her, and she met him halfway. Reaching out, he touched her mask, feeling the warmth coming from it. "You look great as a kakuja."
"Thanks. Now what do we do about the girl?" Touka responded, looking towards the weeping young woman who was curled in the fetal position.
"I'm not really hungry, to be honest. And we have plenty of Ghoul meat if you need a little snack," Ace chuckled, turning and striding over to the young woman, "Hey. Where are you from?"
The teenager let out a cry and tried to scurry away, but Ace dragged her back with his kagune.
"Hey, weren't you listening?" He said as he lifted the girl upside down, so that her face was level with his own. "We aren't going to hurt you. Now… Where are you from?"
"M-Monett! I'm from Monett!" The girl cried out, struggling to hold the loose fitting skirt up, "I'm here on a camping trip!"
Ah. 'Camping'. Ace thought sardonically, looking for a moment towards the partially consumed corpse.
"Alright. Do you know of a farmhouse in Monett that has an old metal cross in front of it?"
The girls' eyes narrowed, and her face twisted into a look of consternation.
"The old Johnson place? That was torn down last year to make way for a chemical plant." She said, and Ace gently lowered her to the ground.
"It apparently didn't do very well, because it's been closed for months and months."
Touka appeared beside him, and the girl recoiled slightly, but Touka didn't even turn her gaze on the girl.
"I'll be waiting in the truck."
Ace nodded, not looking away from the girl.
"Do you have a cellphone?" When the girl shook her head no, Ace let out a sigh.
"Alright. Once we're gone, get in your car, and go. And do yourself a favor, and don't tell anyone what really happened here." He leaned in, kakugan appearing menacingly, "Or else."
Ace turned on his heel and walked back to the truck, where Touka was busily changing into unbloodied clothing.
"Sensors just picked up a vehicle approaching the property at high speed."
Veronia Lang swept her red hair out of her face as she turned towards the minor functionary that had stepped into the cafeteria in which she ate.
Sighing, Veronica dropped the forkful of flesh back onto her plate and headed out the door. If this was another false alarm, heads would literally roll. Jogging quickly into the command center of the facility, she found Lucretia already zeroing in on the oncoming truck as it neared the gates to the Facility.
"It's him, for sure." Lucretia said without looking up. "Two days ahead of schedule."
"Excellent. Let him get into the facility, and then engage with the weapons platforms."
One of the tech's looked up from his console, eyes narrowing as he took in the thermal scan of the oncoming truck.
The roof above them shuddered as the several hundred kilograms of C4 explosives in the covered rear of the truck detonated with enough force to level most of the aboveground buildings. Lucretia and Veronica rode the blast out, their kakugan flaring as they grimaced, but the rest of the Clown's in the room were thrown to the ground. Most of the screens flashed and died, but one was still active.
"Containment breach!" The tech who had spoken yelled, "We've got open air through the first two levels!"
"Seal all hatches on the effected sectors, and engage the weapons platforms," Veronica growled, "Lucretia, my dear, I'd like you to fall back to the Progenitor's Chamber. Link up with Grimaldi on the way and await my orders."
Lucretia nodded and left the chamber at a jog.
"Ma'am, we've got a dozen more heat sources approaching." A second tech called out, "WP's One, Three and Eight are engaging."
Above them, several large false manhole covers opened up, revealing turret mounted machineguns, with grenade launchers mounted below them. The three platforms that turned to engage the targets began to spool up their barrels, and the grenades clunked into place. But None of the three got a chance to fire, as a great wave of lightning struck, melting each of them into slag and causing their grenades to detonate.
"One, Three and Eight are down. Engaging with remaining weapons platforms." The remaining six weapons platforms with arcs of fire that could reach the targets appeared from their concealment, spooling up and firing as soon as they were ready. Long streams of heavy caliber autocannon shells tore into the attackers, and Veronica clenched her fists as three of the targets went down. But then the lightning struck, and four of the platforms went down, and the remaining two died as a target reached them. The remaining sensors also went down, leaving Veronica in the dark.
"Ma'am, we've got to get out of here. Those targets-" The tech, who had served Veronica loyally for several years, died as she ripped his head from his spine. Her kagune reach out and killing the two other Tech's.
"I guess it's time to prepare for the arrival of the First."
"I'm going in, Touka. Be careful." Ace said through his radio link with Touka, "I'll see you on the other side."
They had agreed that Ace would go in alone, with only his Wolves as support. Neither of them had thought they would need anything more.
Ace's three Wolves' that had been dropped by the weapons platforms had finished healing, and joined him and the eight other Wolves at the huge crater. Two stories of mangled basement revealed to him that this had obviously been more than a chemical plant, and his Wolves kagune tore through the metal with ease.
Time to scope this place out. Ace thought, sending the Wolves bounding in pairs in every direction through the underground facility.