Sorry for the two-year update gap. I was roaming the alps.
WHEN HE COMES HOME/ ch. 4
He became aware that someone was patting his shoulder, checking to see if he was alive. Then, he realized his chest hurt—he had forgotten to breathe. As soon as opened his mouth, gasping for air, the entire world came back into focus and sound and pain.
"What's wrong?" Road demanded. He only gaped at her, unable to respond. The house's phone lay several feet away, the metal receiver dented and unusable from when he'd accidentally hurled it against a wall hard enough to dent the pastel wallpaper. Around him, the shadows seemed to move and shift, taking the awful form of that thing "the Fourteenth—"
He hadn't realized he'd said the name out loud until Road had gone still. She stared back at him, not understanding.
"Did he just—" Neah heard Wisely say, from somewhere behind him. Neah turned, realizing that several other of his Noah siblings had joined them. Apparently his two-in-the-morning fight with the phone had drawn the attention of everyone else in the house. His throat hurt with the sensation of choking on nothing, but he could feel the Fourteenth still there like it had been fifty ears ago and he couldn't breathe again he couldn't breathe
Without missing a beat, Boric scooped him up as if he was a doll, carrying him out of the room. "Big brother needs peace," he announced. So bewildered by the sudden motion, it took Neah a moment to respond.
"I-I'm not a kid!" he snapped, finally regaining a voice. Before he could protest further, the huge man deposited him in the sitting room couch none-too-gracefully, barely missing squishing Lulubell and her curled-up cat form, then sat next to him and forcibly pressed Neah's face against his shoulder. The awkwardness and slight pain of having his nose squished lost to the pleasant comfort of not being alone the Fourteenth isn't here-
He must've said that part out loud, because Road sucked in a quiet breath. "Neah, the Fourteenth isn't here," she said, squishing into the couch on the other side of him.
The cursed being wasn't there, he agreed.
But now he knew.
It was somewhere.
His hands started to shake again, until Boric grabbed them in an accidental death-grip. "Whatever the Fourteenth is, you are very safe," he declared. "No more answering scary phone calls."
"Who was on the phone?" Wisely asked.
Only Wisely and Road knew who that was, so Neah quickly murmured an explanation. "My old friend, Boric. He hasn't called in a long time because we are supposed to be enemies."
"Why did he call?" Neah was spooked by the sudden appearance of arms sliding around his neck as the twins appeared, like ghosts. Road pushed at Jasdevi, pulling them back off the brother.
"You should be in bed," she told them, "and let the adults talk about adult things."
Normally, Neah would've joined in the teasing banter, but he couldn't even muster the strength to smile. "No, Road," he murmured. "You all should be here. There's... news."
His brain felt numb, but perhaps speaking the words Cross had said would make it more real. Less like a horrible dream that ran itself over and over in his mind. The horrible demon I lost months of my mind fighting, the reason our mother is—he's back.
An impossible anomaly, but he'd never even considered the fact that, starting fifteen years ago, Mana would've had another blood relative besides Neah. Another person for the Fourteenth to possess.
But that blood relative is dead. My nephew is dead.
"His name is Allen."
More silence. He could understand now why Cross had been so stilted on the phone. Finding the right phrasing for something so impossible was an insurmountable task.
Mana knows Allen died. My brother couldn't have made a mistake—
Someone had made a mistake.
"Allen," he started, and then stopped. No, I can't say it like this. He could feel every other occupant of the room go still, because he'd brought up the taboo subject. Neah swore under his breath, then tried again. "The—the Fourteenth—is alive. The Black Order says that another host is on the run from them."
Instantly, noise sparked in the room as everyone spoke or swore or protested his words. "I think he's dreaming," Jasdero said, his tone surprisingly mournful, to his brother. Boric had no idea who the Fourteenth even was, and Lulubell bared her teeth at him from her spot on the couch.
"Ignoring the first word out of your mouth," Wisely's tone was much less forgiving, "that's impossible." Road stayed quiet, and he guessed she had already connected his first statement with this new revelation.
"I'm not messing around," Neah spat back, finding it easier to give into anger than to acknowledge the ocean of other emotion. "That's what the phone call was about. There's—someone—running away from the Black Order because he has the Fourteenth's memory." At Boric and the twin's looks of confusion (and he doubted Lulubell knew much about that past, despite her apparent aloofness), he tried his best to explain. "The Fourteenth Noah was a member of the original family 7,000 years ago, but wasn't granted immortality, so he sold his soul to the devils for power. He wants to kill Adam, so he possesses someone close to the Earl with an evil, twisted memory." At their horrified glances, Neah continued. "He usually appears every century and has always taken over a male member of Adam's literal relatives." Unsure of how much to explain, and mostly because he did not want to think about that awful, seventeen-year-old Neah's experience, he stopped talking.
"I don't understand," both parts of Jasdevi complained at the same time. "Earl is safe, isn't he? No ghost could harm him." Neah bit his lip until he could taste blood against the months of statements that affirm yes a ghost can harm a ghost can kill a ghost can
"Mana is safe, and very strong," Road cut in when Neah found himself unable to speak. "Neah is telling you about the Fourteenth because," she glanced at him, as if needing confirmation for her words, "if the Fourteenth has reappeared, there's a close blood relative of Mana's other than Neah who is alive."
Wisely was staring now too. Neah saw his mouth move, forming the word that had been the first thing he'd spoken, the name far more offensive to a living Noah than any profanity or divine calling—
Boric, as sweet as ever, didn't sense it in the room. "Earl and Neah don't have any parents or other siblings," he said decisively.
Neah wiped his forehead, finding he'd broken out in a cold sweat. Why had he hung up on Cross before finding out more? He was about to drop the biggest bomb on their family since ten years ago when Mana had returned, and all he had to say was the few sentences he could remember from their conversation and a destroyed phone.
"The defector on the run from the Order is a boy, about fifteen years old. His—"
"Stop." Wisely was standing in front of him now. "Just stop talking, Neah."
Neah shook his head, the words he'd fought desperately to find he was now unable to stop. "Cross said his name—"
Neah could hear some of the fixtures around them start to shake and crack as his mouth formed the last word, the name, but now no sound came out.
The room exploded into chaos.
Allen was met with a mouthful of dirt as he tripped over something in the long, unkempt grounds of the mansion. Lavi shrieked and extended his Innocence-hammer, ready to bash whatever attacker that had caused Allen's downfall. "Hold on!" Allen said, spitting out dirt. "I just tripped! Don't attack anything!"
In the darkness, Lavi's wide eye stared. "I thought the vampire was sucking your blood."
"No, it's just.." Allen paused, suddenly noticing the tangle, metallic aftertaste of the ground in his mouth. He felt around for whatever object had caused the fall amongst the stones and grass. "There's a cross here."
"L-like a stake? There r-really must be a vampire here," the Bookman replied fearfully. "Everyone knows wooden stakes at the only thing that can slay them."
"Everyone knows," Allen interrupted, "that vampires don't exist." I think. "Besides, I think—" he patted around on his hands and knees in the uneven dirt, "it's a grave marker." Slightly underneath the ground, his nails caught on something cold and solid, and he wiggled it out of place. He pulled too hard, and it flew out, barely missing Lavi's face.
"A skull?!" Lavi screeched, nearly falling over himself to get out of the radius of the bones.
Allen was feeling much the same way. Now that he could see the horribly, ghastly object as being a human skull, he was rethinking agreeing to the villager's request. The bone was old enough that there was no other remnants of a physical body, thank the heavens. "Th-this is freaky."
"Wait a second," the bookman said, apparently getting over his chills enough to draw closer to the muddied skull, "it's got pentagrams all over it."
Allen realized why the dirt tasted and smelled like metal. "It's an akuma skull."
They both paused. A dead akuma skeleton was an entirely different matter than a dead human one. In the dim light, Allen could see other wooden grave markers previously hidden among the tall grasses, some half-rotted, others fresh. Judging by the metallic tang in the air, and the way his akuma senses were riled, all the graves were those of demons. "Why is someone burying akuma here?" The sound of the wind through the thrush made both shiver.
"Maybe the plea sent to the Order wasn't all fake," Lavi said.
The mansion loomed above them, distant lights within seeming more threatening the closer they grew. Allen took several more steps towards it, gathering his nerves and repeating to himself that vampires probably don't exist before continuing.
The castle-like house was extremely rotted, he noticed once the darkness dissipated enough to see the foundations. Holes in the wooden slats that dug into the ground made up the partially-revealed basement. With a backwards glance at Lavi to make sure they were actually about to enter a haunted mansion, Allen stepped through a large hole and into pitch darkness.
"There's holes in the floor," he said, voice dropping to a whisper in case there were other unseen occupants. Like vampires. "Don't fall in."
"I think we should make a plan, in case the vampire really does show up." When Allen don't respond, Lavi continued. "I'll try to stab it with one of these broken floorboards, and you take your claw and—"
"Shh! Don't you hear that?"
There was a slight, distant sound of water running. As his eyes squinted further into the darkness, he could see a strange green glow emanating from further down the broken-down halls. It wasn't the same color that Innocence gave off. More of a green-yellow shade that revealed how much the mansion's walls and floors were improving in quality the deeper they moved.
"This is getting more and more creepy as we go," Allen muttered. In front of them, the ceilings stretched out into a huge, ancient ballroom with dust and cobwebs upon everything.
"I think the light is coming from the floor."
The observation was correct. Allen knelt, seeing the glow more clearly emanating from the cracks between the wooden boards. There were pieces of cracked marble tile that had once covered them up, but most were broken and crumbled into dust.
There's no way that color comes from electrical light, he thought, and the sun is long set. "Wait—" Lavi said, as he took another step onto creaky boards, but before Allen could respond, they gave out beneath his and he fell with a loud shriek.
Neah's ears were still ringing from Jasdevi yelling at Wisely, and Road trying to pry everyone apart. He vaguely recognized that his nose was bleeding where Wisely had impulse-punched him (solving problems with unhealthy violence seemed to be a trend no one ever got over).
"It could be fake," one of the twins said from behind him, Road pressing his neck against the wall as he still attempted to scrabble at her. "They don't know it's the Fourteenth. Maybe it's a lookalike."
"Allen isn't remotely a unique name," Wisely said, barely missing getting bit as he finally released the other twin.
"Cross said it had to be "my nephew,"" Neah ground out. "Do you really think there would be a fake Fourteenth running around? Why would anyone pretend that? I don't think anyone other than the generals or higher-ups would even know what that was. Cross said the "kid" could control the Fourteenth's ark and everything."
A semblance of calm was finally falling on them. Wisely sat on the floor across from Neah, folding his arms. "Let's say, then, that it is—Allen. Our Allen." He was horrifically blunt as he continued. "Forgive my lack of verbal filters, but that would mean, first, that Mana was wrong, and his son never died a horrific bloody death in his father's own arms ten years ago." He ticked off another finger. "Second, it also means that Allen decided to not seek out his own family and tell us that he's alive."
The situation was getting worse the more Neah thought about it. There's no way we can't tell Mana, he thought. But what do we tell him? Exactly what Wisely said?
If it was Allen, (and he felt thought knew it was) why hadn't Allen come home?
What had happened?
Another part of his brain, the dark, sick place that never went away after the Fourteenth had taken him whispered your nephew will go through what you did but he will be alone he will have no idea what is happening to him he will
Neah's head jerked up. "S-so we just need to tell the rest of the family," he said weakly. "And Mana. And then we'll figure it out from there."
Tyki, a voice murmured in his head, you gotta come home now.
He stared at the dust and dirt of the mine wall, as if that were the source of the. Wisely? Get out of my head.
Besides Earl, Wisely was the only other Noah with the power to speak to their minds, although he could only do it individually and it felt much creepier than when Earl did it. Of course, both were better than the times that Road had infiltrated his dreams.
Seriously, you need to come back to the manor. We're trying to get everyone home. Sheryl's already on his way.
What's happened? The men around Tyki hadn't noticed his sudden stillness, most likely because the dust and dirt clouded up everything. I'm way closer to Sheryl and Tricia's house, unless Earl can pull up a gate for me.
How far from the Campbell manor?
Day-and-a-half train, minimum. What's going on? I'm being good right now, so if it's another Black Order raid I don't wanna participate.
Mana's son is alive.
Tyki dropped his pickax on his foot, then swore loudly. Language, Wisely admonished, as if he hadn't just spilled the beans on the biggest Noah issue of their lifetimes.
How do you know? Earl's kid died years ago, he demanded rather forcefully. He could almost see Wisely wince at the mental volume.
We don't know why yet, but it's legitimate. The Order is after him for possessing the Fourteenth memory—
What is that?!
It would be so much easier if you were here, Wisely muttered.
Why isn't Earl the one doing the calling?
Tyki felt a headache starting.
Does he…. not know?!
Wisely grumbled. Would you want to tell him? Neah is attempting to rehearse what he'll explain to Mana when we finally reach him.
Never mind. He looked around at the mines, irritated that everything had happened when he'd just gotten there. (Irritation probably isn't what you should be feeling at hearing Mana's kid's still alive), his mind suggested.
I'll be home as soon as I can, Tyki responded after a longer pause. Tell Neah to stop screwing around and tell Mana, if he wants me home faster than the train will go. You can explain this 'Fourteenth' business then.
Mana's child has been somehow involved with the Order, Wisely said, and they know about him possessing the Fourteenth so be careful if you encounter any more of them on your way home. He was apprenticed to someone named Cross. Tyki resisted the urge to say that he had still zero idea who this 'fourteenth' was but before he could respond, he felt the sudden silence in his mind as Wisely ended the connection.
Tyki was left with the question of abandoning his mission to find Walker earlier than his perfect, original plans had allotted. He picked up the ax and set it right, then, without a second thought, stepped through the cave walls and disappeared.
Mana's kid, or Walker? He knew both were priorities that needed to be taken care of. Family came first, as always, but he doubted that the Campbell manor was in a state of order since Mana didn't even know about his kid yet. Stars, Neah's gonna have a tough time with that one.
There's no point in heading home now if it's gonna take me that long, Tyki thought. At the very least, I can deal with this mission before Earl finds out and blows everything up.
Neah was, in fact, having an awful time. He had felt awful from the moment Cross had called and found out both his greatest hope and worst enemy were alive in the same person, and now he felt awful above having to explain this to his brother.
"Mana, your son is alive, and he's actually possessed by the demon who already terrorized your life once," he muttered aloud. "Isn't that great? That's how we found out in the first place, so fourtunate if you catch my meaning—" At seeing Wisely's deadpan, Neah knew it was both the wrong time and place. "Or, hey Mana. Your son is alive. Probably. I hung up before I could hear more but—"
Mana loves me. He won't kill me, Neah told himself. Most of all he knew Mana loved his son.
Or had loved him.
Mana was different now.
But maybe this would bring him back.
"Ready?" Wisely said, evidently seeing the panic in the twin's face.
"M-maybe not." Neah fiddled with his sleeves. No one had even bothered to try and sleep after hearing the news.
They'd used the other telephone in the house to try and dial Cross, but the line hadn't gone through, which meant Cross was probably on the move. Neah wondered how carefully the Order was watching the general, and if he'd get another opportunity to inform them on possibly Allen's location.
"Putting it off won't change anything," Wisely said. "Your friend will call us if he can."
"F-fine." I'm going to die.
Even Jasdevi were silent as the Noah waited with bated breath to see what would happen. Wisely sat in a meditative position, the eyes across his forehead glowing as he called out mentally to their earl. There was quiet in the room, and not for the first time Neah wished he still possessed Noah powers besides the physical appearance of one.
After a long minute or two, Wisely opened his eyes. "He's on his way."
"W-wait," Neah said, realizing that now there was no going back. "M-maybe we should hold off—"
Road patted his back. "Too late." Underneath her schooled expression, he knew she was as nervous as him. Neah hated his internal fretting over something that should be happy and—holy crap there was a glowing yellow light in the room and that was an ark gate—
"Everybody out!" he decided, seconds before the gate solidified. "This is between my brother and I."
"It's between all of us," Wisely muttered, but Neah shot him a look, as if to say do you want to deal with this, and he didn't argue further.
Within the minute, the magic of the gate was dissipating at the same rate his Noah brothers and sisters had left the room, and just when he thought it was a false alarm, a fake gate or Mana had changed his mind, his twin stepped through.
The Millennium Earl had his perpetual five-o'-clock shadow, and his expression was grim as he surveyed the now-empty sitting room. He locked eyes on Neah, and the other twin suddenly wished he hadn't kicked everyone out. However, he didn't know how Mana would react, and privacy seemed the best option when all of their Noah siblings were so prone to violence.
"What is it?" Mana said, his voice grim. "There had better be an excellent reason Wisely interrupted me halfway through the level-fours stationed in South America."
"There is," Neah said, and internally cursed the quiet softness of his own voice. He cleared his throat, trying again. "There is a good reason." When Mana didn't move, waiting for him to continue, he ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe you should sit down. It will take a while."
"Can't it wait?"
"Do you think I'd call you if it wasn't important?" Neah snapped, losing his temper.
Mana didn't say anything.
"Stars, Mana, I know you don't want to be here, home, anymore than I want you to be, but Cross called and I decided it probably involves you." His tone grew bitter, sarcastic.
"Marian?" Mana grudgingly sat, finally, his ire fading. "I hadn't known he still kept us in his confidences. Isn't he with the Black Order?"
"Despite his possessing Innocence, you know as well as I do that Cross doesn't care much for the Holy order."
Mana nodded, removing his coat. Neah's outburst had probably been enough to convince him that staying and talking was worth his precious Earl time. "He, ah, did call earlier to notify us of a situation taking place there."
Mana didn't respond, waiting for the point of bringing their old friend up. Neah groaned, burying his face in his hands. "This is hard to say, now that you're actually here."
"I can leave and come back when you figure it out." He could hear the barely disguised irritation in his brother's voice. Neah was too tired and focused to snap back, and when he groaned in response, Mana paused. "Is everyone alright? Tyki? Sheryl? Is it something with Tricia?"
"They're fine. I think." Neah raised his head, looking at his twin, at the years of age worn into Mana's golden skin and eyes. He steeled himself.
"Do you remember what the Fourteenth last said to you? While it was still possessing me?"
It was a topic they'd scarcely breached in fifty years. Neah's memory was fuzzy, though the pain of possession still clear, but he knew the general words his possessed self had told Mana were the same thing it had told Neah upon being forced out. I will take what you love most.
"I will take what you love most," Mana said, voice strangely quiet.
"He did, didn't he? At least one of the people that we both loved." Mana wasn't referring to Allen, but to someone else, and Neah felt years' worth of guilt threaten to overwhelm him.
"He did. But I think there was—is—someone else that he has the power t-to hurt now." He bit his lip, knowing that this was an inadequate way of expressing the situation.
"Are you having memory relapses? Is this what you called me for?" Mana's voice was much gentler. He knew how badly the Fourteenth had hurt Neah, and the sudden concern made Neah's stomach twist with an emotion he couldn't name. Mana reached over across the space between the chair and the couch and grabbed Neah's hand. "I apologize for being mad. What's wrong?"
"It's more than just memory relapses," he responded, swallowing so hard his throat felt raw. "The Fourteenth is back."
Neah paused, letting the earl absorb that information before he dropped another bombshell.
"How is that possible? We have no relatives, only ourselves—is this what you talked to Cross about?"
It was like a repeat of the earlier conversation with their extended Noah family, but so much worse. "The Black Order is on the hunt for the Fourteenth. They discovered it before us."
Here it comes. "The host is a fifteen-year-old boy, who Cross said used to be his apprentice." The age didn't create surprise on his brother's face, but then again, his son's memory would forever remain just short of five years. Mana only looked disturbed.
"How on earth did the Fourteenth inhabit a host unrelated to us? Is it evolving? Not needing a blood relative?" He gave Neah a horrified look. "No wonder you look so distraught. I understand. If the fourteenth is—"
"The fourteenth hasn't evolved." Neah interrupted before it grew too painful. "It still inhabits a male relative of the Earl."
"But the boy..." Mana's drifted off.
Please let this not destroy him.
Please let this be real.
"Cross said the host's name is Allen."
Mana was very, very still.
He spoke like the name was acid down his throat.
"Ten years ago, you... never found Allen's body when you went back," Neah said, "did you? Even in all the nearby morgues?"
"Everything burned. There were hundreds of unmarked graves outside the city." His voice was a rasp. "Allen is— if you're referring to my son, he's in one of those."
"But do you know for sure?" He watched as Mana paled further, wringing his hands in a state of utter shock. "When I mentioned the only other possible relative could be Allen, Cross said he was certain that the host was your son. That our "Allen" is alive."
"No. I can't bring that—everything—back just because Marian called. You don't know for certain that the Fourteenth hasn't just evolved or something else… something..."
"No," Mana repeated. "No, I can't..."
Neah knew that there was no going back. He was betting everything off a two-minute phone call with an old friend, off a hopeful twisting in his gut, that a boy who deserved to live ten years ago truly was alive. If he were wrong and Allen was a corpse long dead in the ground, he knew Mana would be irretrievable.
Keep walking, he whispered to himself. There's no going back.
"It doesn't matter what you can or can't do."
Mana looked up at him, eyes hazy. Neah continued.
"Marian told me Allen is alive." His voice broke, because he was suddenly imagining the phantom pain of the Fourteenth and darkness and "So I'm going to believe him. Allen is alive. And if he's alive then he's gotta be scared. You remember what the Fourteenth did to me, don't you? Can you imagine your son going through that too? What if the Black Order finds him before we do? What if they've already found him?"
He stood up, voice rising. "We can't let that happen! You're the Earl, you have twelve other Noah under your command to do whatever you need to rescue him! Even though I don't know what in heaven's name is going on or how the Fourteenth is already back, I can't sit here imagining ALLEN GOING THROUGH THAT ALONE WHEN HIS FAMILY IS RIGHT HERE, MANA!"
Mana didn't look at him. Neah breathed through his nostrils, trying to calm himself.
brother please I can't do t his alone he's your son he's your son please come back
Mana's eyes rolled back in his head and he fainted.
"Oh, heavens," Neah swore, grabbing at his twin before Mana faceplanted on the carpet in front of him. "Heavy—Guys! Some help in here, please?"
His brothers and sisters, who of course had been listening at the door, nearly fell inside in their curiosity and horror to discover what had happened upon the revelation. Road's face twisted in concern at seeing their Earl incapacitated, still pale and sweating in a fitful delirium. Wisely and Boric stepped forward to take the weight off Neah, helping lift Mana onto the couch.
"How did it go?" Jasdevi squeaked nervously.
"How do you think?" Neah said, his words caustic and as broken as he felt. He'd expected Mana to rise to the occasion, to change back to his old self upon hearing the news of Allen,
Instead, Mana had withdrawn into himself and left Neah to deal with the broken pieces of their situation.
There was an urgency in his hands, an anxiousness in his body that made his blood run quick because Allen is Mana's son, Mana our Earl our leader and he's supposed to say what we'll do—
"You need to breathe," Wisely said, wincing, probably hearing the awful mess of Neah's thoughts at that moment. "Otherwise, you'll faint too, and we'll be screwed for real."
Someone handed him tea, tea of all things when his throat felt like a vice was around it again.
"So that didn't work," he gasped.
An awkward pause.
Road brushed her fingers along Mana's forehead, concentrating. "Adam isn't going to be much help right now. His mind has fallen into a dream world for the time being."
Neah wished, absurdly, his mother was still alive to hug him and tell him what to do.
"I-I thought he would go back to the way he was."
The confession burned his tongue along with the tea. It helped his throat feel less raw, and the thoughts he'd been considering came rushing out. "But he didn't." Stating the obvious. As if seeing their Earl passed out on the couch wasn't a strong enough explanation. "Stars, how are we even supposed to find his son? We can't use the ark, but the Black Order is hunting him, and the F-Fourteenth might take him over before Man wakes up, and we don't even know where he is!"
Boric sniffled, and Jasdevi shot Neah an annoyed look for making their hulking brother more frazzled.
"Assuming we're going along with Allen being alive, the Black Order might know where he is," Wisely mused, tapping his fingers against his leg. "Did you not ask your exorcist friend where Allen is?"
Neah shook his head. "Cross hasn't been in any real connection with them for years, and he only knew that they were hunting the Fourteenth's host." He was unwilling to say that he'd hung up before Cross could've shared any more information about Allen's location. He groaned, tugging his hair in frustration. "If they get him before us—"
There were certainly more problems, like the problem that Allen hadn't chosen to return home and was Mana's son and actually none of them had ever met in person before besides Mana who was passed out and oh Allen was fifteen, he might no longer look like the boy we're expecting he—deeper color skin— stigmata—golden crazed, possessed eyes of the Fourteenth's host—
"Neah!" Wisely said, and his sharp tone pulled Neah yet again out of the carnage of his memories. "You'd understand him better than any of us. We need you here, present."
"We have an idea!" Jasdevi raised a hand, as if it were a council meeting. "How about we ask the Black Order?"
"I already told you, Cross d-"
"There's more than one exorcist in the order," one of the twins interrupted peevishly. "Can't we just torture them like we usually do when we wanna know stuff?" Neah visibly winced. It sounded so much crasser when they phrased it like that, but their words were true.
"How do we get ahold of an exorcist?" Road said. "Despite popping up at inconvenient times, they're remarkably hard to pull out of those big, scary headquarters." She froze, meeting Neah's eyes as they both came to the same realization.
For a second, Allen thought he was back at the Order. Something tight wrapped around his arms and torso and he couldn't breathe because he was on a laboratory table and they were about to cut his arm off and he needed to move, to get out—
Lavi's voice cut through the panic in his mind and he gasped, sucking in air. His vision focused and Allen realized they had fallen into a gigantic greenhouse-jungle. The things around his arms were vines, shifting uncomfortably, but not metal braces like the lab had.
Lavi fought his way through the wriggling greenery, worried about more than just their situation. "Are you okay?"
"I-I'm fine," he said, hoarse, the nausea fading. "I thought—I thought we were at the Order," voice dropping to a whisper.
Judging from Lavi's expression, that wasn't a healthy or normal mixup. He knew the Bookman was drawing more conclusions about how he was dealing with his escape, but Allen couldn't worry about that now. "Wh-where are we?" he said, wincing as a vine pulled tighter around his torso. "Why are these plants alive?"
"They're some form of carnivorous flower," the red-head said, then yelped as one of the buds nipped his finger. "I think they plan to eat us if we don't move!" He wiggled around, then looked worried. "I can't reach my hammer."
Allen shifted, wincing as something bit him in the human arm too. "I'll try to acti-" he froze again, startled as his senses twitched. There's an akuma here.
A live one. Its presence weighed heavy on him, reminding him of the phantom pain of Road stabbing his eye, of a club to the back of the neck, and then the vine was wrapping tightly again around his wrist and Allen wasn't breathing.
"A-akuma," he gasped out, hearing distantly Lavi's call as the other boy fought towards him. His eyes blurred with panicked tears, which he tried to push down because he didn't want to cry if Father wasn't there to protect him—
In the panic of the moment, he struggled, nearly flailing and fell deeper into the plants. Just as Allen thought he would perish in the cold, darkness of the mansion's greenery, a hand wrapped around his arm and pulled him out.
"It's not your time to eat yet," a silky voice told the plants as its owner gently tugged off the plants from his shoulders. Allen blinked, his vision clearing, looking up into the face of a blonde nurse. She was stunning, with a deeply concerned frown and gentle finger that brushed over his face and shoulders, checking for further injury. Seeing that he was unhurt, she bent and picked up the lantern she carried with her.
"I'm sorry you fell into that mess," she said, sounding truly apologetic. "We don't often get visitors, and I, well, I suppose the plants were unprepared." Numbly, Allen felt Lavi step up behind him as the woman gestured to the staircase they hadn't previously seen. "Come upstairs, you can join us for midnight luncheon."
He tried to take a step but nearly fell before Lavi grabbed his elbow. "W-what?" he asked, confused.
The woman laughed. "Do you need a moment to catch your breath? I know the plants can be quite something."
Reminded of what lay behind him, Allen forced himself to calm. He did not want to be wrapped up in the vines again.
Lavi shot Allen a 'I-have-no-idea-but-lets-go-with-theflow' look as he followed the blonde, happy to be free of their green captors. Behind them, he could still hear the rustling of the vines and knew he should follow. The panic of only a minute ago was making his body ache and his throat thick, unable to tell Lavi what should've been clear, obvious, definite—
The woman was an akuma.
Without his apprentice, the space next to him felt oddly empty. Lavi had only been gone for a day, but with the chaos and near-constant yelling that continually circled around the European headquarters, he was sorely missed.
It was nearing sunrise. Bookman, who needed very little sleep, was still attending Komui and the other science members, who in turn were attending Rouvelier. The man was (hours later) frothing at the lips whenever someone tried to appease him or explain that no, Walker had not been located. No one had noticed when Bookman had sent the message to Cross.
He felt good about his decision. The Bookman were excellent at apathy and maintaining a neutral stance in the Holy War, but alerting Marian Cross about the events of the Fourteenth when he was so close to the Millennium Earl had been an excellent choice. Assuming Walker is related to the Earl, somehow, Bookman thought, this might be the event that spurs on the action of the war. Skirmishes between the Noah and the Black Order had been ruthless but far between in the past decade or so. Of course, the Noah had been far less confrontational in the years before that. I suppose I should be grateful that, for whatever reason, they've been much more intent on eradicating exorcists in these past years.
"I really don't know where he's gone!"
Miss Lee's tearful voice caught Bookman by surprise, and he looked up, spotting her across the science half next to Rouvelier. Her eyes were red and she kept wiping at her cheeks, shoulders hunched. "I didn't even know about the F-Fourteenth until you yelled at everyone earlier!" Bookman kept a neutral expression but had to fight a smile. Her words held an underlying bite.
Rouvelier's big, heavy hand rested on her shoulder, not painfully, but certainly threatening. Lenalee looked sickened by the contact. With someone like that in these headquarters around his sister, Bookman thought, I could almost understand Komui Lee's decision to betray Walker.
"Of course you didn't," Rouvelier simpered. "But we need—would like—to know where your dear friend Alec has gone to, and you, Miss Lee, will have good ideas."
She stared disbelievingly at him. "You mean Allen?"
"Of course," he said, not even bothering to mask his mistake.
"It's really important that we find Mr. Walker," the person next to Bookman said. Bookman turned, surprised that he hadn't yet noted the man's close presence. It was one of the Black Order executives, the cardinal who had appeared the least interested in scaring or mutilating Allen in the interrogation. He had glasses and a square chin, with few emblems upon his chest save for the cross symbol on the cassock. Upon seeing Bookman's inquisitive gaze, the man gave a kind smile.
"I noticed you looking worried about Rouvelier interrogating Miss Lee."
Showing none of his discomfort in how to answer the pointed observation, Bookman nodded. "She is an excellent exorcist but is young and does not respond well to stress. I believe she knows little about where Walker has gone."
The man hmmed, the soft smile still on his face. "That is probably true. Rouvelier tends to... not withhold his passion about eradicating the Noah." Bookman found himself unable to hide a smile at the underestimation of their leader.
"Do you not feel the same way?" he asked the cardinal. The man tuned, the full effect of his gaze suddenly uncomfortable and intense and ancient. To his surprise, Bookman found it hard to breathe under the weight of it.
"Minimalizing Innocence loss is my personal priority."
"Ah," was all he could say in response. He turned back to watch Rouvelier pace around the room to various people like a bull in a sheep pen. Sweat trickled down Bookman's neck, which was ridiculous because everything was fine except for that cardinal's strange, offsetting look.
The cardinal observed Rouvelier as well. "It looks as though Miss Lee has escaped his scrutiny."
"That is well."
"She is a close friend of your apprentice, is she not?" The question was odd. "Yes," Bookman said, trying to figure out how and when the cardinal would have seen them together. "He has made acquaintances with many of the exorcists and Finders."
"I suppose he enjoys it here, being a part of the Order and understanding the Holy War from the side of the righteous. The Bookmen have always maintained neutrality, yes?"
"Of course." The questions were growing more pointed, and suddenly he had a new understanding of the ordeal Walker had gone through.
"Then why," and his smile was now sickeningly normal and good and as if nothing had changed, "would you send a message to Marian Cross and aid in dear Walker's escape?"
Every inch of him felt revolted and frozen at the man's nonchalant destruction of his peace. His instincts screaming at him to run, to leave, were offset by his automatic training to stay calm and apathetic. "H-how did you know?"
The man laughed happily. "Oh, well, you know us. Cameras everywhere. But I haven't told dear Malcolm yet, since his temper has been so high, and I worry what will happen to you and your dear apprentice when he finds out you haven't been as loyal to our righteous cause as we have been to you. Giving dear little Deek a home-"
"His name is Lavi," Bookman said, horrified beyond imagining. Deek had been Lavi's old name, more than five years ago and before they had ever joined the order and how did he know-
"Dear Lavi, excuse my mistake. He possesses Innocence, does he not? I am sure being forced from this Order and his friends, as well as taking away his trusted weapon would be very traumatic. How many apprentices have you lost? It would be awful to lose another one."
Behind his glasses, his eyes were wrinkled in a smile even as they held no true warmth. Bookman's throat was dry, something constricting around his chest as he followed the cardinal's gaze to Rouvelier.
"I take your meaning," he said to the cardinal, stepping towards Rouvelier and drawing his attention away from the person he'd been screaming at. As Bookman forced himself to mention that Walker was close to Lavi and it was likely he had traveled to him, his own voice sounded distant and foreign and everything was different because
Because he'd been cautious around Rouvelier, but now he felt true fear. There were far worse monsters in the Order, and one was standing right behind him.
Tyki started, kicking the seat facing him and probably rousing half the car with his yelp. Stars, Wisely, what is it? Does Mana have an ark gate ready? He didn't mind taking the long train rides but knew that with the crap going on at the Campbell manor Neah would need all the help he could get.
No, he passed out when Neah told him Allen was alive.
Figures. "Why did you wake me up?" Tyki demanded into the empty compartment before shutting his mouth, reminding himself to not act like an idiot. He rubbed at his eyes and reached back, tying his hair at the nape of his neck to freshen up despite the still-dark morning hour. The train car was silent for the bumping of the tracks.
Well, Wisely said, and Tyki could detect a note of smugness, we've come up with a plan to find Allen even though our dear Earl is indisposed. Weren't you tracking an exorcist for Mana?
Yeah, but I haven't found him yet. Tyki recalled the strange pair, the one of them who hadn't even possessed clothing or a Black Order insignia. I was working in the mines when you first called.
How quickly can you locate him? Or another exorcist?
I ran into two yesterday.
What did you do to them?!
Nothing…? They didn't even know who I was.
Wisely was quiet.
'Suppose that will work. Can you grab one of them?
Chances are, they'll know more about our supposed-dead littlest member than anything we'll figure out on our own. He didn't continue, letting Tyki fill in the blanks.
You want me to... interrogate them?
Among other things. Wisely paused, probably realizing how ruthless their conversation sounded. Well—It depends on how young they are. You know how deadly these little Innocence-hyped mice can be, no matter their age. Road just encountered one and she's been blue for the past week so you shouldn't underestimate them. His Noah-brother's tone was tinged with sardonic humor, knowing full well that Tyki could handle himself.
It'll take me a day to get back to their location, Tyki said, not responding to Wisely's previous comment. Don't contact me until then. I can only take so much of your whining voice.
I'll tell Sheryl on you, Wisely said, and then the buzzing in his brain stopped as the connection was severed. Tyki rubbed his temples again, wishing he hadn't been woken up. The bell wire running along the ceiling of the compartment dinged, signaling that another stop was coming up. Better switch trains soon, he though. He needed to change out of the still-dusty miner clothes.
A few minutes later, the Noah emerged from the tiny stall masquerading as a washroom, appearing for all the world a well-dressed gentleman of the English ton, his hair neatly oiled and his cravat pressed. He paused for a moment, allowing the warm sparks of the Noah transformation to pass along his skin to his fingertips and the ends of his toes, his skin turning a strange golden-shade of tan and his eyes gold.
With every new conversation from home, Tyki felt more and more unnerved. First, the dead son of Mana was revealed as actually not dead, and then Tyki was the one having to actually do something about finding the prodigal fifteen-year-old boy. He's Mana's son, he thought with no small amount of irritation. Out of all the Noah, I'm the least qualified to do this. He'd suffered with years of an almost-complex over what Allen Campbell had done to their family with his death, and now the situation was getting messy again.
Even Wisely seemed to forget, with his joking words about torturing exorcists, that Allen was (probably) one of those "innocence rats." I seem to remember Wisely mentioning Allen was an apprentice to Cross, who I know is a friggin general… Obviously there was a huge problem in the fact that the prodigal son hadn't returned home in ten years. Now, he had to interrogate the two exorcists he'd met on the train about one of their possible comrades who was hosting the Fourteenth (still didn't know what that was) and oh, yes, actually the son of the Millennium Earl.
Stepping off the train in a cloud of early-morning fog and smoke, Tyki peered up at the near-empty station, sighing when he realized that the stop he'd picked was unlikely to have trains going back north for a good amount of time. It was going to be a long day's journey to retrieve his coat from that boy.
She was an akuma, and if she chose to reveal herself and attack her, Allen wouldn't put up much of a challenge. His stomach was long-empty, he had spent the previous day in a medically induced coma and was now pulling an all-nighter to deal with whatever vampire-monster had created all the graves in the forest outside. So he followed, not saying anything to Lavi, who appeared to be besotted with the blonde beauty. Allen berated himself for not sensing her, or it, earlier, but the scent of the akuma corpses hanging heavy over the mansion and his own weakness had dulled it.
The hallway seemed never-ending. By the light of the candle she held, he caught sigh of tall, imposing portraits along the dusty and tattered walls. The shadows around them shifted as they moved, and he shivered, wondering again if vampires relay were real. Then again, the white-haired boy realized, I'd rather face a vampire than the leaders of the Black Order.
"We don't often get visitors, so Alistair might be a little surprised, but you can join him for his dinner," she said in a light-hearted, conspiratorial tone as she tapped on the huge wooden doors they'd stopped at. Lavi gave Allen a weird look. Dinner? At that hour of the morning? Then, he caught the scent of cooked meat and something sweet and his mouth watered.
Absurdly, he was hungry, vampire and akuma or not. He thought mournfully of the townspeople and their forceful goodbye and wished that he and Lavi had thought to first ask for food (if not a good night's sleep) before being sent to the creepy mansion.
The door creaked open, letting in the light from a huge dining room. Allen blinked up at the silhouette, his eyes adjusting, before freezing where he stood.
A man sat across the room from them. He was oddest-looking human being Allen had possibly seen, and that included a lot of strange things. He had curly, half-black half-white hair and a sharp nose, and when he smiled his teeth were in clear points that made Lavi gasp.
A vampire? But Allen's initial apprehension faded as the man gave them a hesitant smile. "E-Eliade, I didn't know we would be h-having visitors."
"They were rather lost, and I am sure they would rather spend these hours with you than wandering in the halls," she said, and Lavi and Allen both caught the edged tone in her voice. She pushed them forward with a force, though Allen wasn't surprised at the demonic strength, and they found themselves standing directly in front of the man.
"W-well, please sit," he said, fiddling with his ear, which Allen suddenly realized was pointed. Lavi shot Allen a look, as if to say, akuma? The white-haired boy gave an imperceptible shake of his head. Whatever kind of monster the man was, it wasn't the kind that Innocence could save.
However, yet again, as Allen assessed himself, his instincts weren't telling him the man was a threat. The situation itself was like when he and Lenalee had entered Miranda's apartment to find an akuma and Road Kamelot, but this man gave off an entirely different feeling than she had.
The Allen of a week ago would've exorcised Eliade and tied up 'Alistair' without mercy or question. That Allen trusted in the Order' mission.
This Allen, he thought, is hungry, tired, and can't seem to give a care that there's an akuma standing behind us.
Of course, the akuma were evil, bloodthirsty, ruthless machines who couldn't be trusted, and he wasn't forgetting that. But as Allen took a seat at the table next to Lavi and observed the steaming plates of food that were called "dinner" at five in the morning he couldn't focus on anything else.
"Please, help yourself," Alistair said, biting his lip as he watched their reactions to the food. "Eliade always spoils me and makes too much, and so it is... it is quite lovely to have guests." The blonde akuma reached around Allen and placed a fine gold-trimmed plate on the table before him. As her arm brushed his shoulder, he could feel, more than see, her immediate pull away from him.
She knows I'm an exorcist, he thought. But why wasn't she attacking them outright? Every akuma he'd known had shed their skins upon being close to humans who knew their identity, especially exorcists. Eliade only beamed at him as she stepped around the table to rest her hands on Alistair's shoulder. He caught a sharp blade in her gaze, and the meaning of it as Alistair looked up at her with an adoring gaze was clear: he's mine.
"You want us to share your food?" Allen asked, his voice soft and nearly cracking with a hopefulness he couldn't hide. Stars, what was the situation? They walked into the house of an alleged vampire, who was now eating dinner before the sun had risen and had an akuma for a nurse-housekeeper-lover? And I've yet to feel a need to exorcise it.
Maybe he was tired of caring.
Lavi looked horrified at Allen as the white-haired boy, without a second thought, filled up his plate with steaming venison, (collard?) greens, and some sort of fruited mess (and doing his best to ignore Eliade's strange behavior). "Allen!" he hissed. "It's probably human meat!"
"It's not," Allen whispered back. "And even if it were, I'd eat it anyways. When you're hooked up to a medical IV for days, I won't judge what you eat after."
Lavi only continued to stare on in horror at his willingness to eat when there was probably a vampire in the room (thought Allen thought the blonde woman was more a problem) until Eliade made a sad noise.
"Are you not hungry?" she asked Lavi, placing a hand on his shoulder.
His stomach quickly starting to cramp, Allen sat back and tried to make himself slow down. Lavi, at seeing the beautiful woman's sadness because he wasn't eating the meal she'd prepared, quickly filled up the plate.
"Of c-course I'm hungry!" the red-haired boy said, getting over his apprehension of Alistair rather quickly and piling his plate with double the amount Allen had.
The man at the head of the table smiled, genuinely pleased at seeing them share the dinner. "I-I am afraid," he said, after another minute of quiet, "that I do not yet know your names. I am Alistair Krory, and this is Eliade. "
"I'm Lavi," the Bookman held out a hand and clasped Eliade's in his own longer than was strictly necessary. When the moment was too drawn on, Eliade made a curiously innocent expression, looking towards Allen. "Oh! This is my friend, Walker."
"Splendid," Alistair Krory said, patting his hands together and reminding Allen of a little child wanting to impress his elders for the first time (which was ironic). He picked up the salad fork and began to eat with them. "Where do you h-hail from?"
"A little bit further north than here," Lavi said confidently. "We've been traveling by train for a while."
"A-alone? Where are your parents?"
Allen nearly laughed at the inquiry, why Lavi looked offended. "I'm twenty years old!"
"A-Apologies!" Krory quickly amended. "I have not talked with many people in a l-long time." He looked at both, probably observing more closely the clues that they were not normal member of society, from Lavi's eyepatch to Allen's curse-white hair and scar.
The conservation was clearly skirting around the larger issue, which was why they were visiting Krory afterhours on a train and why Krory was evidently awake at this hour. Lavi reached for more food, giving Eliade a cringey wink, one which Krory blatantly missed.
Allen took a sip of the fruity drink that had been poured by the blonde akuma, much less overcome by her pheromones due the fact that he knew blood-oil and mechanics were what kept her looking young. Krory, on the other hand...
Feeling both Krory and Eliade's gazes on him, Allen met their eyes, unsure of what he should do or say to keep the conversation not so one-sided with Lavi. The food was wonderful and, for some strange reason, Allen eyes stung with the warmth of it after so many hours of stress and pain and masquerading confidence in front of the men on the train—and if he closed his eyes, it almost felt like he was sitting the lunch room with a mouthful of Jerry's food, like nothing was wrong—
"Are you alright?" Krory asked in a gentle tone. Allen swiped at his eyes furiously, mad that he had let himself be overcome like a child. He caught sight of the man's long canines, and the world came crashing back down. The food was heavy in his stomach and Allen looked down at his hands, the Innocence-one glinting dark in the candlelight. The Black Order would never take him back, not when he was carrying the Fourteenth even though he didn't understand what it was besides the thing that had given him nightmares for forever.
He set down his fork with a loud clang. Lavi jumped and Krory nervously set down his own utensils. "Pardon my forward minded-ness," Allen said, "but why does your mansion possess a graveyard in the front?"
The man went very, very still. His pale eyes roamed between Allen and Eliade, mouth opening and closing in surprise. "I—I cannot say."
"Of course," he responded.
Krory bit his lip, and it looked comical with the overall get-up of the room and his appearance. "Truly, I cannot explain things."
Allen focused briefly on the sharp canine revealed by Krory's behavior, still finding it hard to believe that he was sitting across from a vampire. This situation is requiring me to be open-minded, but surely there's another explanation.
"Miss Eliade," Lavi said, tone serious. He leaned forward on his hands. "I don't mean to be presumptuous, but I think we need to have a talk with Mr. Krory on our own. We're actually visiting on business from—"
Allen managed to kick him under the table before the redhead dug them into a worse situation. She's an akuma,he tried to mouth, but Lavi didn't register. Eliade only continued to smile from her position at Krory's shoulder. His eyes slid back to Krory's teeth.
Eliade withheld a sigh of irritation as the sleeping aids finally, finally kicked in and the white-haired boy passed out on the table. The red-haired one wasn't far behind. She'd given them four times the dosage Krory usually took, and it was with no small relief that it had worked.
"What happened?" Krory said, pushing his chair back to investigate his guests' sudden lack of consciousness.
"They're obviously sick," she cooed. "Look at how tired they are. They're just children." Children she needed to dispose of as soon as possible, as far from the mansion as she could get. If the Black order had sent them, there would certainly be others.
"Sick?" Krory asked.
"Of course. Most human beings don't visit at the middle of the night—or the crack of dawn," she amended. "Perhaps we could give them refuge in the guest rooms until they wake?"
Krory's heart was much too big for his Innocence-tainted body, and he nodded emphatically. "Without a doubt. I had no idea these two were in such dire need." That's it, she thought, just don't question me—
yki continued his way down the train car, fully aware it was the third train he'd (barely) made in the past several hours. Rain pattered the glass outside as they chugged though more miles of dark forest. He knew the general direction the exorcists were going, and there were only three trains that ran along the same stops they'd previously been the day before.
Though he had no idea which stop the poker-playing boy and his companion were at, Tyki trusted he'd be able to find them soon.
"He won't wake up," Road murmured. "I've never seen him dream this deeply."
She reached across and brushed Mana's bangs away from his forehead. The circles underneath his eyes had never seemed deeper, and his breathe was slow enough to make Neah question for a moment if he was even alive.
He leaned against the doorframe, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
I don't think your father is going to be much of a help in finding you, Allen.
The black metal of Bookman's personal golem glinted in the dark room as it hovered above the two unconscious forms. The clouds outside were dark enough to obscure any sign of the rising sun, but the candlelight from under the door illuminated the boys' pale faces.
The golem flitted anxiously. Its message was urgent, but even a bite to the ear didn't rouse the smaller Bookman.
"I can't leave them alone, Eliade, I'm the lord of this house and it would be improper—"
"—the sun has risen, my dear master, you should be off to bed. They're fast asleep anyways. I'll wake you when our guests are feeling better—"
"If you promise me so, then—"
Footsteps faded away in the hallway outside. With bared teeth, the golem settled by Lavi's ear and played the message in the hopes that the recipient might wake.
"Bzzzzt! Lavi. The Black Order knows Walker is with you. Take him and abort your mission immediately. Get away from your current location as soon as possible. -bzzzt! Lavi. The Black Order know Walker is with—"
On another train, a squadron of red-dressed men stomped by without a second word. The swinging silver crosses and strange symbols along their clothing caught no small number of glances from other passengers. The bell whistled, signaling they'd be arriving at another stop soon.
Even with her superhuman strength, carrying both exorcists without bumping either one of their horrid Innocence weapons was a tricky feat. She suspected that coming into contact with the god-crystal would force her into her demonic form and cause her to lose her human skin, which was irreplaceable. Eliade was grateful for the cover of the pouring rain as she flew through the forest.
Knowing Alistair's keen sense of smell, she'd decided that slitting the exorcists' throats while they were still in the manor was a bad idea. The station was the best place to deposit their corpses (and the easiest for her to get to), without giving the Black Order a hint as to where or why the exorcists died. They'll be sending more, she thought mournfully. How annoying.
The rain was cold against his cheeks as Lavi finally fought his way to consciousness. I am never sleeping again, he thought distantly as whatever he'd been drugged with released him from its clutches. He jerked his head, yelping as he banged it on metal.
The rain dripped into his eyes. He blinked up at the form above him in the gray light.
The woman, Eliade, stood above him, her maid uniform looking ridiculously unkempt. "You're waking," she frowned. "I thought you'd want to be asleep before I slit your throat."
Her thumb pressed against his jugular and Lavi gasped for breath, more rainwater dripping down the back of his throat as he struggled hopelessly. His hands weren't tied, but the medication made his reflexes slow. He couldn't even reach down to the belt where his hammer lay.
Her eyes were as dark as the oil running through her veins. She's an akuma, he realized distantly. "N-no," he slurred, not even knowing if this was the end and had she already gotten Allen? and it's my fault, I should've protected that kid and this wasn't even his mission and"wasn't even s-suppos'd to be here—"
"No, you weren't," she agreed. She leaned closer, and he closed his eyes, waiting for the end and realizing he would never become a full Bookman, because he was about to die—
He didn't dare move, but her fingers had loosened against his neck.
Was she sniffing something?
"How odd," she murmured. "Your companion smells strange."
Lavi could only raise his blurry eyes to the heavens and continue to will strength back to his limbs, wondering if he was still dreaming. He registered that Allen was lying next to him, and though she hadn't released him, he was alive for yet another second.
"He smells very strange," she repeated, siting back on her haunches. "He has the scent of—"
The sound of an oncoming train whistle cut off whatever else the akuma was going to say. The hand around his neck released instantly, and Lavi found he was able to lift his head because that train whistle was noticeably louder than he'd heard it before.
He blinked furiously. He was sprawled across the tracks in front of the station, though the rain was pouring hard enough to obscure anything of the small wooden stop meters in front of them. Allen was face down next to him with no sign of blood (thank heavens) but completely out.
Eliade looked at the train coming quickly towards them, and sighed. "Slitting your throats would've been so much faster. I suppose this'll do. I'll have to leave you here, then." Before Lavi could take another breath and yell and say no this is not how two exorcists die she had vanished into the rain and mist.
Lavi struggled with one hand to lift his upper torso. "Allen," he cried. "Wake up." There were two sets of tracks in between the station and the smaller platform, and Lavi tried frantically to move, to grab Allen and get off the tracks get off get off
From the opposite direction.
There were two trains coming in?! Why would such a small town be a stop for two blasted trains? At the SAME TIME?!
Though they were slowing, there was no way Lavi had the strength to get off both sets of tracks and pull himself and Allen onto either platform. His heart was pounding so hard it nearly drowned out the increasing rattle of the boards between the metal rails as both trains approached. In the rain, only their headlights and immense dark forms could be seen. Which means they can't see us, either.
He tugged again on Allen's oversized jacket, managing to pull him to one side of the rail. Lifting his head, Lavi saw what was possibly their only chance of survival.
There. Between the two sets of tracks was a half meter of space. Though the train cars could be low enough that they'd be crushed anyways, there was a chance they'd live. Or at least not die from steel wheels the size of Lavi's upper body running over them.
"Aaarggh!" he yelled, his body refusing to obey him. Allen mumbled something. "WAKE UP!"
Another ten centimeters. The upper part of his torso was over the rail but that still left his legs (which he didn't want to lose) and the rest of his friend.
The trains were really too close.
Oh, stars, they were CLOSE.
I'm going to die I'm going to
One more yank and suddenly—
The wheels roared past his ear as one train pulled in next to them. Lavi clutched at Allen (or Allen's arm? He couldn't tell where the rest of Allen was but at least he wasn't on the rails probably. Another second past and the second train, going the opposite direction, was above him. He squeezed his eyes shut, registering the loud and noise and heat but—
They weren't crushed.
The sound of the squealing brakes was louder than any noise had a right to be, and Lavi registered he might be deaf if they survived this.
He could only hear ringing even after the trains had stopped. Are they boarding? Did he have the strength to call attention to themselves and prevent the trains from pulling off? Because Lavi didn't think he'd survive more moving train wheels next to his face.
Amidst steam and rain droplets, in the sudden darkness between the train cars, his hearing started to adjust.
Someone was screaming.
Tyki looked out the window, trying to see the looks of the station they'd just pulled into. Could this be the one that the two exorcists had disembarked at?
The rain was too heavy to see anything other than blurred shapes.
He debated getting off. They were at one of these, surely, but getting off and not finding them meant waiting for another half day for the next one.
Then, he sensed it.
And it was close, too. Were the two exorcists at the station? Tyki strode out of the compartment, nearly running into the bustle of people in the corridor waiting to exit. Squashing his irritation, he glanced to the side, realizing that there was another train pulled alongside them. They could be on that one, too, he thought. Or perhaps they were waiting to board the very train he was disembarking from.
Tyki's hearing sharpened. The sound of the rain against the roof of the train carriage was loud, but there was something else. A woman in front of him murmured to her companion, and a few other passengers seemed to be looking around too.
There, the sound again. His brow furrowed. At first, he thought it was the sound of the brakes releasing pressure or some other mechanical thing but no.
A cry. Long and drawn out and full of pain.
There was another gasping scream, and now most of the passengers he could see were shifting nervously. "What is that?" someone asked.
"Is something wrong?"
"Someone must be hurt—"
Another wail. The skin on the back of Tyki's neck crawled. High enough to be a child's voice, he thought. With pursued lips, he finally gave in and used his Noah's powers to pass not forward, but sideways through the side of the train. The instant he dissipated through the wall of the train car, the screaming grew louder.
He was now floating, somewhat, between the two train cars, with one foot still in the wall. At immediate glance, there was only mist and steam (and he realized he'd exited the wrong side because the platform was where there'd be people)—until he caught sight of two small forms down the length of the tracks. Also between the cars.
The source of the cries was clear as Tyki approached, striding forward in the narrow space. The two boys he'd met only a day before were sprawled between the trains. One of them knelt, nearly on top of the other, clutching at his companion's lapels. "—en! Wake up!"
The smaller one, with the white hair and oh look there's my borrowed coat was staring upwards and nothing and wailing. His eyes were unfocused beneath soaked hair and dark circles.
"What's wrong with him?" Tyki said, wincing at the sound as he drew close. The white-haired boy gasped for another breath and then cried again.
The other exorcist turned with wide eyes, narrowing missing catching his head on part of the train cars looming above them. "I-I don't know." He looks like he's been drugged, Tyki thought. "Can you help us out of here?"
Tyki didn't hide his smirk. "Probably not."
The older one finally noticed Tyki's immaculate appearance, and that the raindrops merely passed through him. As his horrified gaze passed up to Tyki's face, Tyki allowed the stigmata and golden eyes to appear fully. "Y-you're a—"
"A Noah." Tyki crouched, poking the boot of the prone exorcist. "Do you know when he'll stop screaming?"
"Don't touch him!"
"I don't think you're in any position to make demands." The screams finally died off into a hoarse cry, and Tyki stuck a pinky in his hear to get rid of the ringing. "That's much better. What's his name?"
"We are exorcists of the Black Order, and you can't—"
"Mmm, but this one doesn't even have his uniform, see?" Tyki leaned forward and tapped his hand on the skirts of the borrowed coat. "Rather embarrassing." He tried not to laugh as the red-haired one grabbed at him with sluggish limbs, far too slow to do anything.
There was another whistle, but this one wasn't a train whistle. The sound was odd, lower than expected, and very haunting.
They both froze.
"Was that a Crow whistle, boy?"
The boy looked sick. "I-I—"
If that's a Crow, I'm not wasting time. Tyki was not stupid, and though he'd probably survive, Crows weren't something a single Noah dealt with. He'd only run into them once in his entire Noah-life and had no wish to repeat it while on a kidnapping mission. He reached again for the exorcist, deciding that he'd rather deal with the poker-playing screamer one. He's smaller, anyways.
To his surprise, the other boy released his friend without putting up a fight. Tyki glanced up, meeting his single eye. "Don't kill him."
"You're giving him to me? What happened to fighting me?"
"Don't kill him," he begged again. "You can't hurt him. But you gotta go, before the Crow—"
"WALKER AND ASSOCIATE SPOTTED. ENGAGING," they both heard the magically-amplified voice sound above the trains. Tyki could see the red figures in the distance, and they had obviously noticed them. Walker? He stared down at the boy. That's lucky. Looks like I'm completing my mission anyways.
He yanked the unconscious boy into his arms, knocking over the red-haired one. "Thanks. No promises, though."
Without a backward glance, Tyki set off running in the opposite direction. Though the exorcist wouldn't be able to pass through physical objects, Tyki was able to use the side of the train as leverage and pull them up onto the top. The Crow were chanting and yelling something in the distance. Looks like Walker is a popular target, he though. Or perhaps the redhaired one was Walker and they'd leave Tyki alone.
He shot another look backwards.
No, they're definitely pursuing me, he thought.
In his arms, the boy shifted, still whimpering softly. I should've made sure he was mentally all-there, Tyki thought as he raced down the length of the train. If he's this messed up when we interrogate him, I don't think we're gonna learn anything about Mana's kid, exorcist or not.
There was no time for second-guessing. Against the pouring rain, Tyki saw the familiar wave of a flag on the train across from him. The conductor (apparently blind to the situation going on down the platform) blew his whistle.
If I get out of this with an intact exorcist and no injuries, Wisely owes me big, he thought.
The world was loud and metallic and hot. There was a screeching sound like brakes of a train like an akuma as an exorcist cut it through, but Allen couldn't open his eyes.
"Allen, I'm coming for you!" he heard Father yell. Underneath him, the ground was slick with water oil and akuma blood and the metal of a rail pressed into the back of his head.
"Father!" he cried back. There was so much burning wood, and he didn't know how Father would ever reach him because the men in black were fighting Lavi was shaking him.
The immense, crushing shadow of a train above them made loud, mechanical noises noises of wood tearing away from its moorings and timber crackling in flames
He could see Father's eyes, wide and illuminated by the orange glow as he fought desperately to get to Allen. Something was falling on him, and the last thing he heard was Father's scream before the world crashed into his face—
The Fourteenth laughed.
"It looks like he's tearing his memories out of your clutches."
The Innocence didn't respond.
Tyki released a string of profanity in his mind in response to Wisely's prodding.
That's nice. Did you get an exorcist?
I'm assuming that means yes…?
I am not doing ANY OTHER MISSION until EARL GETS HIS CRAP TOGETHER. Life without the easy travel the Ark provided was a life Tyki wasn't willing to live.
I'll let him know when he wakes up.
Tyki glared at the unconscious boy on the train seat across from him, rubbing the still-stinging spot on his arm where a Crow spell had gotten him. We're on our way to Sheryl's. The Campbell manor is too far away for me to get to in my current situation.
Is the exorcist alive? How'd you capture him?
I don't want to talk about it. Tell Sheryl we're coming.
Sheryl is here with me, Wisely sounded apologetic. We had everyone gather here when we found out the news. I can send a letter to Tricia, though, to let her know you're coming.
He groaned. Loudly. The boy slept on in his unnatural sleep, completely oblivious to the world around him as the train rocked along its tracks. Tyki hadn't even stolen his coat back because the skinny pole looked like he might give up the ghost if someone breathed on him the wrong way.
Don't bother. We'll arrive in half a day. I'll question the exorcist or whatever when we get there. DON'T even THINK about asking me to do anything else.
The rain had stopped, he thought. Then he tried to remember when it had been raining. He was surrounded by blankets that had no right to be so comfortable, and numerous creamy pillows nearly smothered his head. Brushing his fingers against the fabric, Allen slowly breathed in and out.
Campbell allen Mana uncle Nay hi burpy tik and father mana earl father
He sniffled, pressing his cheek into the blankets. With shaking shoulders, he clutched at his chest and let out a small sob.
CAMPBELLcampbellcampbellmynameisallenmy name father campbell CAMPBELL
Gasping, Allen tried to calm his racing heart. His head hurt so bad, but he was never going back to sleep ever again.
campbellcampbellfathercampbell CAMPBELLcampbellcampbellfatherFATHER father
He remembered everything.
His head hurt so bad.
His thoughts hurt so bad.
I remember everything.
He didn't know what to think.
"My father is the Millennium Earl," he whispered into the covers.
What did that mean? His entire identity, as an exorcist, as Allen Walker of the European Branch of the Holy Order, was gone. Stripped away.
And the Noah were killers.
Road, face twisting as she spoke of her dead nephew—
The Noah were murderers.
Father kissing his forehead and tucking a scarf around his neck against the winter cold—
He'd heard stories about the Millennium Earl. Stories that returned with no mercy and dozens of coffins hanging off of them.
"Don't stop, Allen. Keep walking."
He didn't want to keep walking.
He didn't want to think.
Did they know he was alive?
Had his father ever—
—looked for him?
After what some time, Allen lifted his head.
Where was he?
He lay in a four-poster bed with ornate hangings on either side, large enough to cover half of the already-spacious room. Light filtered in through a window to his right, illuminating a beautiful sitting table and wardrove on the other side. Flowers were placed in a vase on the nightstand next to him, and he stared at the soft yellow petals, wondering at the absurd domestic feeling of the entire place.
He wasn't tied up. There were no medical instruments. No Crow standing guard next to him, or Rouvelier glaring down and demanding his past secrets.
A glance under the covers told him he was still in his borrowed clothes, apart from the coat and boots, which were missing. He wasn't damp, though. Had someone dried him off?
Where in the world have I ended up?
He slid out of the gigantic bed and onto the thick, pastel rug covering the entirety of the room. There were no identifying portraits or pictures hung upon the walls, but several porcelain birds and flowers dotted the extremities.
Creeping to the window, Allen pushed aside the curtains. Below him, an expanse of manicured grass and shrubbery glittered with dew. He caught sight of several gardeners working in the bushes and trimming greenery around stone statues.
He was obviously in a noble's home. A rich noble home.
He was fairly certain that the three gardeners he could see in the distance were akuma.
A rich, demonic noble home?
Letting the curtain fall back to obscure outside, Allen leaned his back against the windowsill. Akuma or no, at least he wasn't being attacked.
There were three doors. One led to an empty walk-in closet. Another led to an ornate washroom, stocked with fluffy towels and completed with a white bath and a toilet that looked like it had only ever been touched by the butts of Greek gods.
Allen approached the last door, pausing as he touched the handle. He was certain it led to the rest of the mansion, but unsure if he wanted to break the quiet peace within the room. Curiosity won over, and he pushed it quietly open.
A long, brightly hit hallway twisted in both directions away from him before disappearing in turns. Allen craned his neck, looking for anything out of the ordinary. But, to his relief, everything about it appeared both opulent and tidy.
Someone coughed and he jumped, nearly slamming the door in surprise.
"Sir? Can I assist you?" A servant stood against the wall next to him, arms folded neatly behind his back as he bowed slightly to Allen.
"Wha?" Allen said, confused beyond measure. "I—"
"Lady Kamelot asked me to see to your needs, and to alert her should you wake before lunch," the man responded evenly. "Do you require anything before I report to her?"
Allen closed his mouth. "Ah, n-no."
"Very good, sir. I will be back shortly." The servant bowed a second time and turned on his heel. Allen watched him go.
That was an akuma. Why hadn't it attacked him?
And who was it reporting to?
Allen closed the door, resting his head against the back of it. I have literally no idea what is going on.
to be continued