Ch 3: Supernatural Heist
"Well how do you dooooo, Marius~! It's just been waaaay too long since we last met, right?"
This Devil's way of speaking will never cease to annoy. A small price to pay for the heaps of research and techniques he's bequeathed unto me, a small price that's allowed me to embark on the steps that will give me the power of a God.
The power that will crown me as the ruler of the Vampires for all of eternity!
Thus, I merely offer a cordial smile and reply, "What brings you here so suddenly, Lucifer? I was under the impression you were not to visit for a few more weeks."
"Welllll some stuff happened with the whole, 'terrorize the lousy Devils who don't act like Devils' plan and it sorta fell through after some total fun nazis crashed the party unexpectedly and I figured it was time to step up the timetable on this little awesome scheme of ours. What do you say, Marius old buddy? Can you start things a little early?"
...The assault on the Underworld failed?
"I can, but what do you mean the attack 'fell through'? What with the amount of effort and time that went into it I would have thought it was infallible?"
"Yeeeaaaah that's what I thought to, but, oh well! Life surprises~!"
...No matter, with Lucifer at my side any among the Tepes or Carmilla factions that would deny me my right will fall.
Especially with the two Evil Dragons standing guard outside the castle. Crom Cruach and Grendel won't fall so easily. Although…
"Lucifer? Who is this little...girl, standing by your side?"
The Devil chuckles and playfully says, "Lilith, say hello to Mr. Marius, he's a friend of mine."
Barely passing Lucifer's legs in height, clad in a dress more akin to our fashion and with odd, black eyes the girl monotonely says, "Hello, Mr. Marius."
"Good girl," Lucifer says with a snicker, handing the girl a piece of candy that she proceeds to devour with unnatural gusto.
"You don't need to worry about anyone interrupting us, buddy old pal! I may have given her my dear old mother's name...but feel free to say hello to my very own personal Ouroboros Dragon!"
"So, Attila, how are you enjoying New York so far?"
"It is perfectly acceptable, Master."
I resist the urge to frown at her monotone words, frustrated at the lack of progress we've had despite working together for almost two decades at this point.
Oh, she's perfectly respectful...but despite my constant efforts at convincing her that she can afford to have some level of independence and freedom...she only thinks of herself as a tool, one without hobbies or opinions.
It hurts, to see someone so convinced they're just an extension. Something to be used when convenient and ignored until needed again.
Not that I have any intention of giving up.
Regardless, I can't help but chuckle at the looks she gets from the many passerby. While she's dressed in the fashion of 1920's United States, what with a pleated skirt, blouse and vest...her skin tone and eyes are most definitely not the norm. There's an entertaining mix of racist, flabbergasted, curious and even a few lustful reactions from the crowds of America's most populous city.
"Well we have some time off while Kischur is doing who knows what, anything you feel like seeing or doing? I hear the Statue of Liberty is quite the sight to see."
A stoic nod.
"If you wish to witness it, I would be happy to travel along, Master."
Well, it's a start…
I begin to easily stroll towards the pier-
-and notice Attila briefly hesitate, her gaze traveling to a nearby poster that I instantly latch onto.
Roscoe and the Flying Dutchboys.
Well I'll be, that's one of the few remaining Vaudeville productions left, films have largely been taking over since they added voices…
"You interested in seeing that, Attila?"
"Oh, no that's fine, Master. You said you wished too-"
"I changed my mind, this seems more entertaining."
The briefly perplexed look she wears causes me to grin.
No way am I letting an opportunity like this pass me by.
The light's flicker on and the audience, a surprisingly large one, applauds with no shortage of enthusiasm as Roscoe and his Dutchboys bow, the crowd beginning to file out while they converse about the show.
"So, Attila, what'd you think? Was it to your liking?"
Her crimson eyes seem to be more expressive than usual as she nods, what looks to be the beginnings of a smile upon her lips.
"It was...I did not see many shows such as this when I was alive, if any."
"Well I think we can say this night was a resounding success then. If you want to, we can go see more productions like this in the future whenever we have a break."
I don't miss the way she seems to leap at that offer-
-before quickly reverting to her usual stoicism and hastily replying, "I would not wish to impose, Master. You already sacrificed one night to indulge your weapon's interest..."
Heh, nice try, Whip of God.
But now I know what you enjoy and by whatever Gods are still hanging around the globe I'm going to make sure you come to have a sense of self-worth.
"Well then, why don't we swing by an ice cream parlor before heading back to the apartment? I think a little bit of dessert before turning in for the night can't go...awry...Attila?"
An odd look of intensity on her face as she stares at the stage, uncharacteristically ignoring me, the Hunnic King takes a slow, hesitant step in it's direction.
And then another.
I remain silent, not daring to interrupt her concentration, the only other people in the room being a few stragglers and janitors who also start to stare at the curious women with exotic features as she, in a trance-like state, ascends the platform's steps.
Seeing her stand tall in the middle of the stage I find myself waiting with bated breath, completely clueless as to where this will go.
And then she sings.
"There's a saying old, says that love is blind. Still we're often told, 'seek and ye shall find'. So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind..."
Her voice...it's enthralling.
"Looking everywhere, haven't found him yet. He's the big affair I cannot forget. Only man I ever think of with regret..."
I'll be damned...that's 'Someone to Watch Over Me'...her voice is a bit huskier and deeper than the original, with a far more pronounced accent...and I think it's beautiful.
I don't know how long she sings, of how long I was standing there, enraptured...what I do know is that once it ended it was like waking up from a dream, reality seeming to crash down with all the subtlety of a derailed train.
And we all begin to applaud.
Attila jerks slightly-almost as if she's surprised to still see us there-and quickly ducks her head before walking back to me, several of the others complimenting her on her skill as she does so.
"No offense to Miss Fitzgerald...but I think I liked your rendition better."
She just gives a quick nod, head still lowered as if in embarrassment and I can't help but ask, "Was that your first time singing? It was incredible."
"...I heard several of my soldiers and some of the women sing, on occasion. But, yes...this was my first attempt. My apologies for doing something so unneeded, Master."
Wordlessly I reach into my coat's pocket and withdraw one of Kischur's many Mystic Codes, a cylindrical rod that can erase memories as needed.
"Everyone, may I have your attention?"
All eyes turn towards me and with a quick pulse of Prana the Code seems to brighten momentarily...and then confused looks dominate the theater, a few of the patrons shrugging before leaving the premises, the cleaning staff getting back to what they were doing without further comment all while Attila offers a mildly perplexed expression at my actions.
"You said that was your first time singing, and, well..."
I sheepishly scratch my cheek, not sure how to properly explain this as we leave the auditorium.
"It's a bit childish and greedy, but I want your first performance to be something special, just for me and me alone."
Attila meets my gaze, a blank look dominating her features...before she smiles slightly, a far more pronounced curve of her lips than any I've seen before.
"I see. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Master."
Breathing an internal sigh of relief I look back at the Heroic Spirit-
-and in a brief moment of inspiration I gently take her hand in my own, marveling at the softness of her skin and lightness of her grip, despite knowing perfectly well she could bend steel in a heartbeat if she so wished.
Feeling a bit shy myself-a rare emotion for someone as old as me-I put on my best smile and ask, "How does that Ice Cream parlor sound? A great way to end a great night, don't you think?"
She seems to consider this, staring at her fingers that are now intertwined with my own...and then she blushes of all things, quietly replying, "Altera..."
This time she more confidently nods, a far more noticeable smile adorning her beautiful features as she does so.
"Yes, my name. Altera. I like it more than Attila."
...Two decades was worth it, just for this alone.
"Hello, Altera. A nevem Horatius."
Then a second one.
And then I'm waking up from my recently imposed Dymaxion sleep cycle, a habit I developed when on 'assignments' for Kischur.
Steady sleep can be something of a rarity, surprise surprise…
"Oh, you're awake. Good morning, Horatius. Did you sleep well?"
I smirk at Scáthach's tone and jovially reply, "Why yes, I did."
"Oh, well that's good for you, now isn't it. I mean, since you actually can fall asleep, what with being able to have a physical body and all..."
"Whoah, someone woke up on the wrong side of the astralized bed this morning."
The Queen of Ulster just grumbles under her 'breath' and I chuckle before heading to the bathroom.
If there's one thing Scáthach enjoys, it's being able to physically sleep. Unsurprisingly, peaceful rest was hard to come by in the Land of Shadows-what with the dead being rather restless and all-and upon gaining a physical body after she had been freed from it...she had promptly taken a thirty hour snooze.
"I just find it rather annoying that we have to remain this way. We are not even sharing a room with those two..."
"C'mon now, you saw Mr. Ikuse's 'dog'. It was totally sensing you when we first met. Not to mention it's you three who are all over the news, not me. It's just safer to fly under the radar for the moment."
"Master is correct, Scáthach. Hounds are very perceptive creatures, the Romans made ample use of them during my sieges to sniff out ambushes and other such attacks."
I can practically hear Scáthach's eyeballs rolling as she dryly replies, "Thank you, Sister. But you do know I was merely bothering Horatius so that he feels bad about this and then attempts to make it up to me later, correct?"
A note of confusion now in her tone the white-haired woman replies, "Yes, but...I was also playing a part. Weren't you the one who said I was the 'straight man' a few years ago?"
"Yes, I believe it was nine years ago when wewent with the Kaleidoscope to the 'WSWA' Convention. You got drunk rather quickly, Master, but the Vampire and Scáthach were still quite sober, even after the spirits competition. Rather amusingly, many were calling Scáthach a 'Spirit Hero' on account of the many drinks she handled with no difficulty. Unfortunately, you and the Vampire were annoyed and he brought out something called 'Everclear' for you two to drink."
My mind screeches to a halt.
"Sorry, you did just say 'Everclear', right?"
"Jesus, Scáthach! You and Kischur basically drank fucking JET FUEL."
"It was most certainly potent, after two bottles you both were behaving very strangely and randomly. Although you did agree that I was something called a 'straight man' and that I should keep doing what I was doing and that was why you loved me. It was a confusing statement, but I heeded your advice nonetheless."
I'm just trying to process the fact that Scáthach and Kischur had two of those bottles on hand and actually finished them.
Scáthach sounds rather bewildered herself as she says, "Goodness, I don't remember any of that...erm, Altera? Did I say anything else at that time?"
There's a loud silence and then the Whip of God somewhat awkwardly replies, "Yes, you did. Perhaps you can ask me later...in private, perhaps? Some of the phrases that left you were...explicit? Even the Vampire was complaining about his 'virgin ears'."
I just heave a sigh and decide to head down to breakfast before this conversation derails any faster than it already has.
The adventures of a drunken Scáthach and Kaleidoscope sounds like the kind of world ending antics Richard Wagner would have sprouted an erection over…
"Lord of Spirits, you will have to drink with me over a glass of this 'Everclear'. It sounds truly potent, a test most worthy of the Queen!"
Gilgamesh joins our dialogue for the first time and I resist the urge to slam my palm into my face.
"Queen of Heroes? While I respect your courage and...fortitude, I guess? You do realize those two were basically drinking an IED in liquid form, right?"
An imperious chuckle.
"And what better way to ascertain the true Queen among us? Come, Whip of God! You will join us and we shall have a banquet of Queens!"
"...Ok. That does sound like fun..."
Three of the strongest Heroic Spirits in existence, all of them bibitur up to the eyeballs?
Fuck it, everyone says the world is going to end with a whimper, let's see it end with a drunken cackle instead.
"Good morning, you two!"
Both Sei and Tobio jump as I clap them on the shoulders, evidently not having heard me sneak up behind them.
"Horatio-san! We didn't know you were awake..."
"Well, now you do!"
With that I grab a bowl of cereal and flop myself into a chair opposite of them, pleasantly asking, "So what are you two going to be up to today?"
Tobio shrugs before idly replying, "Probably just finishing up some business outside of the Vampire's territory for now, tomorrow we'll see, depending on how today goes. You?"
"Eh, I think I'll just wander around for now, get acquainted with the locals and be back before it gets dark. No telling if any Vampires are gonna be out and patrolling after all..."
They both give me weird looks at that and I realize that might have been more Dead Apostle behavior than it was 'Vampire'.
Regardless, they shrug and push back their chairs before Tobio politely says, "In that case we'll be on our way, we have a busy day ahead of us. Until later, Horatio-san."
"Alrighty, see you two later. Remember to use protection if you happen to get bored!"
They both stumble and turn red before hurrying out, my question obviously making them feel a little less that comfortable.
I spend a minute idly crunching on whatever brand of cereal I grabbed before quietly asking, "Well? Did the Ljud Runes take?"
I breathe an internal sigh of relief, glad that my act of grabbing their shoulders and imparting the Runes had gone unnoticed.
"Well, let's listen in then, shall we?"
I give a quick application of the very same Rune to my own ear, a brief moment of silence ensuring before-
[-ally told you that guy is suspicious! Jin and Leo think there's something off and he keeps saying all those weird things that are correct but also not correct!]
[I know that, Sei, but right now Horatio-san isn't our concern. Whether he's the wielder of those three or not...we can't worry about that right now. Rizevim and Marius working together doesn't bode well for anyone, especially since the Bandersnatch being defeated probably threw off whatever timetable they had been working with. We'll check in with Azazel's contacts around the city and see what they have to say, we might get more details about Valerie Tepes and her condition.]
[Hopefully those bastards don't do anything to her...you know they'd probably love to extract the Sephiroth Graal given the first opportunity.]
[Yeah...we know a thing or two about people taking advantage of Sacred Gear users, don't we?]
They fall silent and I dispel the Rune's effects, contemplating our next course of action after hearing this new bit of info.
"Well it's certainly a good thing fortune was on our side, because your attempt at deception didn't last more than a day."
I let my head slam onto the table before me and heave out a long, suffering sigh.
"You three just cannot let that go, can you?"
Gilgamesh's dry response is, "It was a truly inspiring moment of failed acting, almost comedic in it's tragedy."
"Well that's probably the nicest way you can say I'm an idiot. Thank you."
"Oh it was my pleasure. On a different note, Gladiator, what do you intend to do about this newest development? Indulge my curiosity."
I grab a few pastries on my way out of the breakfast area and thoughtfully reply, "Well with this new bit about these Rizevim and Marius persons-I think they were talking about them yesterday as well-I think we can safely say they're not nice people. They also mentioned an Azazel they seemingly work for, the guy in charge of one of the factions that just joined the peace accords. Not to mention this Valerie Tepes is apparently the holder of that Grail imitation Scáthach was talking about. I think our path is clear. Get in, find this Valerie, have her locate potential threats for us, take things from there."
I close the door to my apartment room behind me, already tossing the pastries to a newly materialized Altera as Gilgamesh contemplatively wonders, "I find it interesting that you would take such a direct course of action, given your desire to stay out of the public's eye for the past few days. Does the idea of an evildoer really aggravate you so?"
A humorless smile makes it's way onto my face.
"Let's just say me and Kischur happen to agree on a few subjects, and that my time of wandering the globe has left me with a...bit of a short temper when it comes to certain types of people."
The Queen of Heroes doesn't reply aside from a pensive hum, Scáthach manifesting and quickly kneeling down before tracing out one of her many Runes.
Upon her muttered command the Rune flares to life, twisting skeins of energy quite similar in design to a more mundane compass appearing in midair-
-where they snap with alarming speed to a single direction south southwest.
...Strange. The Kompass Rune points towards wellsprings of raw Mana, but the only kinds of things that create this sort of reaction are high-ranked Apostle Ancestors or extremely old and powerful Phantasmal Beasts.
Scáthach repeats the process one more time, just to be sure, but the result is the same.
"Well that settles it then. Were headed in that direction. Scáthach, about how far away was it?"
"Forty kilometers, give or take."
"Seems reasonable for a community of Supernaturals living outside the boundary of normal society. Alright, we'll head there now and get things started."
Finishing up the last of the danish treats in record time Altera nods before dematerializing, Scáthach grinning maniacally at the prospect of a fight while Gilgamesh asks, And just what happens to be your plan for this 'rescue', Gladiator?"
"Who said anything about a plan? We're just gonna knock on the front door, ask for this Marius Tepes or Rizevim guy and take things from there. It's not like we know anything about our targets or what they're capable of, so why bother strategizing?"
My only reply is the mental equivalent of a shake of the head, the Golden Queen nonetheless falling silent.
Sorry, Queen of Heroes...but we've been doing this for awhile and quite frankly we prefer to wing it.
Improvise, adapt and overcome.
Also bring along a healthy amount of bullshit.
"Ok, looks like we're here. Any last minute thoughts or ideas?"
I glance behind me at the three now physical Heroic Spirits reveals no dissenting opinions, prompting me to shrug.
"All right, here we go then."
With that said I jump down from the Vimana Gilgamesh had provided for us and start walking at a brisk pace towards the massive medieval castle that keeps giving off those gigantic Prana readings, calming myself and entering into a relaxed state of mind.
Heists are always nerve wracking...but undoubtedly the most fun way there is to screw someone over.
I will say though, I never expected to see a town of Vampires coexisting just fine, complete with modern amenities and all.
That many Dead Apostles in one condensed area would have been utter bedlam.
"Oprire! Menționați-vă numele și scopul!"
I snap myself out of my thoughts as I realize I'd already meandered up to within shouting distance of the main gates, two guards adorned in 15th century Equestrian Plate Armor (sans the horses, for whatever reason) shooting me challenging gazes and speaking in what I'm assuming is Romanian.
A language that at one point I learned...and then forgot after four decades of having never used it.
"Hello there! Sorry for the sudden interruption, but you wouldn't happen to have a Marius Tepes and Rizevim on hand, would you?"
I don't miss the way they minutely flinch at my question, their next words coming out in heavily accented English.
"You have no stated business with these individuals! And you have yet to introduce your three concubines!"
...Concubines? How the Hell did he-
There's a brief flash of gold, the distinct CRACK of a projectile being launched at excessive speeds and then the front of the castle explodes, dust, brick and mortar being launched in every direction feasible and stunning the two guards, their expressions rapidly paling.
"...Itchy trigger finger much, Queen of Heroes?"
Her expression is thoroughly dismissive as she scoffs, "Me? A concubine? The fool is lucky I find that statement as hilariously incorrect as it is insulting."
Her crimson eyes narrow as she silkily advises, "Now run along, children, and bring to me the aforementioned persons. Or you may just find my magnanimity run dry..."
Both of them scramble inside the newly expanded entrance with a fair bit of panicked haste, causing the Golden Queen to smirk before turning towards me.
"Well, Gladiator? Why are you still dawdling here?"
I raise an eyebrow.
"Am I supposed to be somewhere else?"
"Yes, you dolt. We shall distract and engage our foes, you shall infiltrate the palace and retrieve this Grail woman."
"...While I appreciate your faith in my sneaking skills, I can't actually do that. I don't know any sort of concealing Magecraft beyond noise-cancelling and some other basic stuff, nowhere near enough to infiltrate a castle of flippin' Vampires."
With a regal grin she manifests a Gate of Babylon and retorts, "Then it is most fortuitous that my treasury holds an answer. Take this gift, Gladiator. It will hide you for the duration of a few minutes."
She tosses me some incredibly fine-spun cloak of what looks like liquid silk that I catch with one hand-
-and smirk as said hand disappears entirely beneath it's folds, a see through effect transpiring from where it used to be.
"Why thank you very much, Queen of Uruk. I'll be on my way then."
She merely gives me a dismissive nod while Altera and Scáthach shoot me a look of understanding and excitement, respectively.
Leaving things at that I jog towards the entrance-
-and promptly throw the cloak over myself and dodge to the side, my not-all-that-impressive skills at sensing Prana painting me a plenty clear picture of the approaching threat.
Stilling my breath I stare at the entrance and wait for whatever is approaching to show itself...and have to hide my exhalation of surprise once I see the revealed figures.
The first is a grey-haired man who seems to be in his 40's, a permanent sneer and look of irreverent laziness etched onto his features.
The other two are...different.
One is a bipedal, dragon-lizard thing that somehow perfectly conveys Human glee and violence despite the vastly different facial construction, malice rolling off of it in almost tangible waves.
The last is even more massive than the humanoid lizard creature, a towering Western Dragon with jet-black scales and twelve bronze-gold stripes adoring it's skull, patience evident in it's ancient gaze as it stares at my companions evenly.
Now that's an eclectically lethal mix.
I briefly cast a worried glance at my three companions-
-before reality reasserts itself and I swiftly sneak into the castle before they can sense me.
If there's any team capable of handling themselves, it's those three. I have a job of my own to do.
Well, it seems Horatius made it inside with little difficulty. The Queen's vault of oddities is quite useful indeed…
"Well I am just flattered! Just whatever did I do to attract the attention of three lovely young ladies such as yourselves? And in such a hurry, too! You gotta remember, these good looks don't tell the real story, I'm an old man and I can't be running ragged across big ol' castles, now can I?"
Oh lovely, a comedian.
If it wasn't for the obvious signs of power emanating from the man I'd have mistake him for a slightly touched in the head geezer…
"Less than a minute and I find your attempts at playing the jester tiresome. Save us both time and air by holding your tongue, mongrel."
If the momentary furrowing of the grey-haired fellow's brow is any indicator he's not used to encountering someone that quick to shoot down his happy-go-lucky act.
Still, he rallies himself rather quickly and offers an unapologetic smile, his tone suggesting he's talking to a rather slow child.
"Aww, kids these days are so quick to get all offended and everything! But it's ok, Papa Rizevim understands that you clearly don't have a clue who I am, or you wouldn't be acting quite so much like a cheeky little brat~!"
Excellent, if we can keep the madman monologuing for as long as possible that will allow Horatius time aplenty to-
-apparently not do anything as several of the Golden Queen's gates manifest and launch a flurry of Noble Phantasms at the trio opposite us, a shockwave of dust and masonry marking her displeasure as the treasures impact and it takes no small amount of effort on my part not to sigh.
"Desist with the cute nicknames, Witch of Dun Scaith."
"While I understand your dislike of that man and his aggravating words, it would have been far more efficient to have him ramble as long as he was willing, affording Horatius time to find our quarry with as little strain as possible."
I cast a significant glance at the slowly clearing debris cloud, revealing that the front of the castle was largely destroyed in the attack.
"And was it not somewhat dangerous to cause such widespread destruction while he was still inside?"
"Have faith, Lord of Spirits. I know exactly where my treasures are and can keep track of them with ease. The Gladiator was well away from my assault. And what is there to worry about? Does he not have access to a functionally unlimited wellspring of power?"
I trade a worried glance with my Sister of battle, the same thought no doubt running through our heads.
Does the Queen of Heroes not understand the limits Horatius has?
Unfortunately we're not afforded the time to explain, our three targets slowly drifting into view as a gust of wind clears out the leftover dust.
The two Dragons are entirely unmarred, the Phantasms evidently not having enough of a punch to them while the grey-haired man has several bat-like wings sprouting from his back that grabbed the weapons mid-air, stopping them cold.
Ahh, so he's a Devil.
And he looks less than happy, his fake good cheer being replaced by an ugly facsimile of joy.
"Ooh, I recognize this power! So you three are the cunts that threw a big ol' spanner in my super duper plan~! Well that's just great! Grendel, Crom Cruach and I can now get in a little practice at mischief and mayhem and unthinking violence before we go take a little field trip in another world, doesn't that sound fun?"
Altera and I share yet another significant glance.
Another world? Either this man has severe delusions of grandeur...or he's a potential instigator of the black warning the Kaleidoscope told us about.
Just to confirm, Altera tilts her head in that adorable manner of hers and asks, "What do you mean by 'another world'?"
Unfortunately the irritating man just wags a finger and condescendingly replies, "Ah ah ah~! I already gave you a hint you don't really need in the first place! I mean, after all..."
Twelve wings burst from his back and the already heavy amount of Prana-or at least it's equivalent-in the air intensifies even further.
"Dead girls tell no tales~!"
A moment of silence passes between us-
-and then Gilgamesh openly laughs, her condescending tone outstripping the Devil's in it's haughtiness.
"Very well, Little Man, let us see how you and your pets stand up against Demigods. Personally, I expect little from one as talkative as you. Mutts that bark the loudest often have the weakest bite..."
The Devil openly scowls while the bipedal Dragon furiously snarls and, somewhat unexpectedly, speaks.
"We'll see how loud you bark when your legs are in my stomach, Wench!"
A Gate of Babylon manifests and disgorges another Vimana, the three of us lightly leaping atop it as the Golden Queen offers a truly impressive smirk and retorts, "Then feel free to display your prowess, mongrels...offer us a bit of amusement less deadening than your words have been."
With a burst of acceleration the aircraft takes off, me and Altera not bothered in the slightest as the rather violent Dragon roars in anger, the three of them rapidly chasing us in a mixture of flight and leonine bounds.
"You seem to have a talent for riling up others, Golden Queen."
A sudden roll that causes the world to tilt brings us out of the way of a beam of some kind of condensed Prana fired by the Devil, Gilgamesh all the while unconcernedly explaining, "I had no shortage of practice when conversing with the Gods. And you may now rest easy, Lord of Spirits. Am I not bringing the battle away from our precious 'Master'?"
I would prefer to explain why the three of us fighting at our full strength can take a noticeable toll on Horatius, if he isn't in a position where he can negate the effects such large amounts of Prana traveling through his Circuits...but the time for that has passed.
Now we just merely need to finish things as quickly as possible.
An anticipatory smirk crawls onto my face.
And have a little fun while we're at it.
Left, right, right, up, left, down, down...hit a dead end, curse whoever designed this damn monster of architecture and then backtrack.
Not for the first time in my life-in fact I just bemoaned this not more than a minute ago-I wish I was better at sensing the emanations of Prana and other such forms of mystic energy.
I might not be so laughably lost then!
The sound of tense voices has me instinctively pressing up against a nearby wall, despite the fact that this cloak Gilgamesh lent me has been doing a pretty bang-up job so far. Straining my ears I start to make out individual words-
-and inwardly sigh in disappointment.
Still more Romanian being spoken.
Thankfully I can watch the group of four-all of them clad in those ornate suits of armor-argue in person and their repeated points down a nearby hall alongside the words, 'Marius' and 'ritual'.
I'm assuming the word 'ritual' sounds the same in Romanian as it does in English, and not 'bathroom' or something along those lines.
Still, it's the best lead I've got so far.
Quickly sidling past the arguing group I descend the stairs four at a time, eventually running up to an ornately carved door that I can sense is hiding several Prana signatures, despite my lackluster skill in the area.
This must be it.
A quick examination of the door itself doesn't give me much in the way of details other than it's heavily warded with a variety of spells that look similar to Bounded Fields...but aren't.
That's more Scáthach and Gilgamesh's field of expertise.
As if on cue, I feel more energy pulse through my Circuits as the three Spirits outside no doubt begin to battle.
No time to be subtle then, I need to finish my side of things before I have to start fully supporting those three and powering my own Magecraft.
Take sulfuric and nitric acid, made from the base of oleum and azeotropic-
-combine with an ester, cool mixture of glycerol with cold water-
-pack into absorbents and antacids, cover with cardboard-
-blasting cap attached to thirty centimeters of fuse-
-the AECI factory, boxes upon boxes of explosives-
If there's one area of Magecraft I can happily say I'm pretty damn good at...it's Gradation Air.
In between wandering the globe for two millennia and change, as well as bearing witness to every single technological advance since my time...I can create pretty much anything less 'complicated' than electronics and Mystery (those things are bloody nightmares...so many damn individual parts and concepts).
And the best part is that it's cheap. Most Magi attempt to recreate Mystery using Gradation Air, an expensive and exacting process that requires so much prerequisite knowledge that it'd be easier to just obtain the damn thing in the first place.
Creating something as 'mundane' as a bundle of dynamite is easy if you have an understanding of chemistry and understanding of where said objects come from.
Thus, twenty-four individual sticks of the explosive manifest in front of me and I rapidly place them against the door, the fuses tied together and rapidly being lit with a quick application of fire Magecraft.
I hurry around the corner and rip off the cloak, shoving it into my shirt and hoping that it doesn't get damaged in the ensuing melee.
Stealth isn't gonna last me long here...and I doubt the Queen of Heroes would be all that enthused to learn I busted one of her treasures when I didn't really have to.
The floor beneath me seems to jump but I don't pay it any mind, sprinting towards the newly created opening even as a wave of dust and ash billows outwards.
For my next trick…
Magnesium created from the embers of a dying star, mined from the Earth's crust-
-potassium nitrate, harvested from bat poop, used to oxidize-
-aluminum and cast steel, perforations made to allow for escaped sound-
-The BAE Systems sponsored factory in the United Kingdom, assembly lines of weaponry-
Knowledge flowing through my brain and a quick pulse of Prana has two stun grenades materialize in my hands, a rapid flick of my wrists pulling out the pins and chucking them through the entryway.
Ok, moment of truth here…
Clapping my hands over my ears and opening my mouth I feel the grenades detonate, a sort of physical 'slap to my everything' sensation that hopefully keeps whoevers inside the room off balance for just a few precious seconds.
And then I apply Reinforcement to every part of my body, a process most Magi would no doubt consider to be the height of hubris.
Reinforce the brain to improve cognitive processing ability? You're more likely to give yourself an aneurysm all across your skull, or cause said organ to lethally swell in response to the stress.
Enhance your nervous system to increase reaction time and responsiveness? Hope you have a feeding tube ready, because odds are fair you're going to rip apart the very nerves you're trying to improve.
Upgrade your lungs and heart to increase stamina? More likely than not you just collapsed those organs and are now asphyxiating, either due to a lack of air or a lack of blood (which is kinda the same thing, but whatever).
But I can make it work.
While my physical body is still very much that of a Humans, my merging with Irappu changed it in a very fundamental way, a reformation that I was intrinsically tied to.
I know my body, and can thus cheat a little bit.
Time seems to slow down just a bit, details become sharper, my senses pick up more information than before and once I clear the dust cloud of the destroyed entryway, I take in everything at a glance.
A real esoteric looking room, candles and tomes decorating the walls while some sort of sacrificial altar resides in the middle of it, a young woman laid atop of it while surrounded by a Magic Circle.
Nine other figures spaced equidistant around it, one of them clad in some sort of medieval nobles outfit while the other eight have the same suits of armor I've seen others around here wear...and all of them are shakily getting to their feet, shaking heads in an obvious attempt to fight off disorientation.
All the time in the world.
Tempered steel forged in the fucina's of the Vatican, masterfully tempered by fabbros-
-Rites of Providence made incarnate, a shield against the Heretic-
-Evil falls before their might, the soul granted no sanctuary-
Six individual Black Keys manifest in my fingers, one of the few true Mysteries I can form with Gradation Air.
Several centuries ago, when I had been aimless and seeking companionship, I'd run across several Dead Apostles both by choice and by accident. After more than a few close calls I'd realized I would need some kind of reliable insurance against them, given my limited repertoire of Magecraft.
A relatively 'open minded' sect of the Church had been happy to trade my knowledge on these Apostles in exchange for the 'blueprints' of a Black Key, both parties going their separate ways afterwards in a rare display of an upheld bargain.
Let's see how these do against this universe's version of a Vampire, shall we?
I windmill my arms downwards, six keys being released with an audible buzz noise as I throw them with all I've got-
-and they neatly perforate two of the guards despite their masterfully crafted armor, knocking them away in uncoordinated tumbles due to the transferred force that would have toppled a charging Bull.
Two more Vampires are skewered by three Keys apiece but by then the rest are back on their feet, the nicely dressed Vampire shouting, "Omoara-l!" as they charge.
Crap...even with sped up reactions they're fast.
Well, 2000 years of on and off fighting against a variety of foes gives you an interesting repertoire of strategies to work with.
The first guard comes in with a horizontal swing of his broadsword, clearly aiming to knock my head off my shoulders-
-and I dart beneath the blow, slamming my hip into his and latching onto the underside of his helm with my fingers, an improvised hangman's throw-
-that cleanly separates the vertebrae in his neck with an audible pop as I yank him over my shoulder and into the ground, his body limply bouncing once before twitching into stillness.
Funny thing about armor, it doesn't keep your limbs from stretching in ways they're not meant to be stretched.
All the same, that move leaves me in an awkward crouched position as one of the Vampires sends his claymore tearing for my spine, taking advantage of my 'vulnerability'.
My shield, interlocked pieces of fir and leather-
-An Umbo made of iron, handy for pummeling-
-The coat of arms, that of the She-Wolf, my symbol of the games-
An unadorned Scutum manifests, draped across my back as it absorbs the blow from the Vampire's blade, the shock enough to break my back if I hadn't reinforced my body.
As things stand, all it really does is splinter the shield and jar my teeth.
Kicking off the ground I leap towards the 3rd Vampire, the creature momentarily flinching in surprise at my speed and durability from what should have been a crippling blow.
That moment costs him.
The crook of my right arm wraps around his helm, left hand grasping my right wrist in a figure-four headlock-
-that twists his head a good 135 degrees as I yank on my arm, a wet crack signifying his broken neck and his body goes limp.
Not letting go of the corpse I whirl it around in a macabre facsimile of a waltz, the 4th and last attacking Vampire running his buddy through with a spear instead of me. We have time to briefly gaze at one another, faceless helm to my lightly smiling one…
Stainless steel, six kilograms and 55 centimeters-
-15.7 mm, 58 g, three loadings of cordite-
-The symbol of the She-Wolf, patterned in gold along the handle-
-Custom made, the exchange of one favor for another-
In a subdued flash of light an enormous Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express manifests in my hand, aimed directly at the Vampires helmed face. A weapon that I personally bought and helped make, just like my shield.
A quick squeeze of the trigger-
-and the shock of the firing hits me like a punch to the mouth, the enclosed space we're in creating one Hell of an acoustics chamber.
The Vampire doesn't stand a chance, the bullet piercing his helm and exiting out the back, causing his noggin to jerk back and forth like a bobble-head as a variety of fluids and skull bits exit the gaping holes in his armor as a fine mist.
Thank Aurelius my wrist was reinforced or firing this monster would have broken it no problem.
The last remaining guard-the one who'd gotten his sword blocked by my shield-is evidently too shocked at the sudden turnaround to do much of anything-
-and pays for it as I let go of the corpse and send three Black keys digging into his chest, a pained wheeze escaping him at the sudden blow.
Eight down, one to go.
The Noble looking fellow backs away from me in a panic, jabbering something in Romanian that sounds like it has to do with the Grail...but doesn't really tell me much since I only catch like one in every eight words.
So instead I manifest six Black Keys and nail him to the wall with them, a gurgle emanating from his throat at the action.
Not wasting any more time I throw one Key apiece into the Vampires that I disposed of through more 'mundane' means. If they're anything like the Apostles back home they'll be up and at em' in no time with wounds those plebeian.
"The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. Cremation Rite."
Crossing myself I finish the incantation and with a blaze of white fire the Vampires disappear, burnt to ash so swiftly that I doubt they even had time to comprehend that things were getting rather warm.
I let out a sigh-
-and immediately wince as I feel my body heat up, the demands of keeping the three Heroic Spirits fighting at peak performance making itself known.
Judging by the intense concentration I'm sensing through our empathetic link, they're in the thick of things full stop.
Time to leave.
Jogging over to the woman on the altar I take a moment to examine her, somewhat thrown off by her...attitude?
She's quite beautiful, no doubt about that. Pale, smooth skin with honey-colored hair and red eyes...but there's something about her vacant gaze, despite the pitched conflict that had just occurred around her, that makes me wonder if she's all...there.
"Oh, hello...may I ask who you are?"
I do a double-take as I realize she just spoke to me in Japanese of all languages but quickly reply with, "My name's Horatius. You're Valerie Tepes, I'm assuming?"
"Hmm...I think that's who I am..."
Well that's not worrying in the slightest.
I don't have time to ponder her slightly crazy attitude as she looks over my shoulder with a friendly expression and says something in...Hebrew? No, it sounds older than that….crap, I should probably start brushing up on my languages if this is gonna be a regular occurrence.
Thankfully she seems to snap out of her brief moment of...whatever and cheerily says, "Well it's very pleasant to meet you, Horatius-san. Samuel-kun says that I can trust you and that you'll bring me to see Gasper-kun after all this time. Samuel-kun is rarely ever wrong, he's a very good Prophet!"
...I think I'll hold off on my myriad of questions for now in favor of getting the Hell out of here.
"That's nice to hear, Miss Valerie. Here, jump on my back and don't let go, I'm going to be moving fast."
Without complaint she locks her arms together around the front of my throat with surprising strength...and then I kick myself for forgetting that of course she's stronger than she looks, she's a Vampire, stultus!
"Horatius-san, do you have a fever? You seem quite hot..."
Crap, I must be channeling more Prana than I realized if the scatterbrained girl is concerned about my health…
"I'm fine, now hold tight."
And like that I'm off and sprinting through the fortress, retracing my steps as best I can and tilting forward at the waist so I don't end up counterbalanced by having the Tepes girl cling to me.
Not that there's much to counter though, she barely weighs 47 kilos, if that.
I'm briefly startled out of my thoughts as I hear said girl mumble for a second, her voice blissfully cheerful as she advises, "Horatius-san, Samuel-kun says you should watch out on our right."
"What do you-"
A burst of Romanian that I feel safe in assuming translates to 'there they are!' sounds out exactly where the Vampire hanging off of me said it would, four more armored soldiers running full tilt in my direction.
Sheet metal construction, solid pieces fit together at an assembly line-
-belt fed, NATO cartridges being the common choice-
-Modeled after the Dreyse Needle Gun, a locking bolt firing mechanism-
-Rambo looked like he had fun with it, why not me?
An M60 comfortably lands in my outstretched hand, 200 rounds manifesting with it and without bothering to aim much I unload down the hallway, one of the guards folding over as the rounds slam into him while the other three duck around a nearby corner, the roar borderline deafening if I wasn't reinforcing my eardrums.
Regeneration or not, I know of very few beings who think being shot to pieces is fun. Hell, even Kischur prefers to not get perforated if he can avoid it and he was turned by Crimson fucking Moon.
My delaying tactic in full effect I create another stick of dynamite before chucking it at a nearby wall, giving up on sneaking through given the racket I'm making.
With a loud bang that momentarily outdoes the machine gun a portion of the wall crumbles away, providing a convenient route outside of the castle.
Casting away the gun and whipping another couple stun grenades around the corner where the Vampires are hidden I leap out the improvised window, falling at least ten meters and landing hard on reinforced limbs.
"Altera, Scáthach, Gilgamesh! I'm all clear on my end, let's get out of here!"
My mental shout goes unheeded, only vague impressions of a hard fought battle and the ever increasing draw of Prana through my rapidly heating Circuits being my reply.
I trace back the connection and glance at where the three of them should be at-
-and find myself instinctively paling.
An enormous ball of something that looks and feels like raw Prana dominates the skyline, even from kilometers away.
What the hell are they fighting against?!
No sooner do I think that the ball descends, a massive Gate of Babylon forming to meet it-
-and what I recognize as the Pushpaka Vimana, an oversized version of the more fighter jet sized one as large as a small city, clashing against the ball head on, panes of green energy forming a makeshift shield and after that I can't see a damn thing since the glare intolerably bright.
Dammit, if only I could take a moment to properly cool my body down and provide them with a workable amount of energy to keep fighting…
After the light dies down I hurriedly glance back...and find the monstrous aircraft listing badly, the front half of it practically melted down to component slag.
"Hey, one of you three fucking answer me-"
My mental message cuts short as I see a single light detach itself from the dying ship, a glowing star that arches overhead...and then streaks downwards with increasing speed.
Much like a modern day ICBM would.
(A few minutes earlier)
Had someone told me before we traveled to this realm that Altera, the oldest Queen of the world and myself would be fighting against a Devil incarnate, aided by two Dragons (one of whom was supposed to have only existed in an old tale that came 500 years after my time and the other a God of all beings…), well…
It would not necessarily have been the strangest thing to happen to us, but it's close.
"On your back, Sister."
My non-verbal warning to Altera is promptly heeded as she leaps backwards, her veil briefly brushing up against mine as we seamlessly rotate around each other's bodies-
-and the sudden shift in momentum brings our weapons into the path of each Dragon's talons, my spear meeting Grendel's wild swing and Altera's Photon Ray impacting Crom's accurate blow.
And it stings.
If I remember the legend correctly, Grendel had some sort of enchantment that protected his skin from weapons, an effect that still seems quite relevant, given the way my Gáe Bolg bounces off it's hide and nearly jars my shoulder from it's socket.
...When was the last time I had this much fun?
"Hahaha! Something the matter, girlie? Your little stick doesn't seem to be working too well!"
A smirk makes it's way onto my lips as the Dragon makes another horizontal sweep of it's talons, a lazy move that lacks proper technique. Thus, it's a simple matter to lightly jump upwards, alighting gracefully upon the creature's arm before sprinting towards it's head, Primal Runes adorning my armor flaring to life as I transfer Prana to them.
I take a moment to savor the flummoxed expression the Dragon wears-
-before swinging my leg in a flying back kick that Horatius taught me, the point of my heel impacting right at the base of it's jawline with a most satisfying CRACK!
A swift shoulder roll as I land on the ground diffuses what little impact there was to be had, a mild ache in my leg well worth the sight of the creature staggering back and forth, the lower portion of it's jaw hanging loose and flopping about.
"Y-you...that...ha...haha...hahaha! Ooohhh! It hurts so goooood~! Give me moooore!"
Oh lovely, it enjoys pain.
All the same, it's rambling allows me a few precious seconds to observe how my companions are faring.
Altera has her teeth gritted in a rare display of effort, her weapon and muscles straining against the massive paw of Cruach, the Dragon doing it's best to crush her into the ground...which neither seems to have noticed is rapidly giving way beneath their feet.
An understandable position though. While Cruach may lack in any sort of enchantments, it's scales are frightfully durable and it fights like a stalking tiger, quick and powerful with it's blows.
Gilgamesh and the Devil's battle is easily the most destructive.
Golden portals fling numerous weapons in wave upon wave of destruction, each Phantasm being met by some form of condensed Prana created by the Devil, dozens of explosions rearranging the landscape around them every second.
And through it all the Queen is striding forward, poleaxes and other such heavy weapons dropping into her hands as she bashes aside her opponents wings, the bat-like appendages writhing and striking like snakes...with the power of a Dragon behind them.
Yet for every shattered weapon a new one drops into her palm near instantaneously, her advance never halting nor diverting in the slightest.
All in all, easily one of the most entertaining bouts I've had in a long time!
But there is one caveat, one that worries me.
Horatius has yet to contact us, meaning he is still in the process of finding the Graal wielder...and all the while is no doubt straining his Circuits to keep us properly supplied. Were he in a position where he could simply sit still and regulate his body's temperature, I would hold no concern...but this not such a scenario.
We need to conclude this as swiftly as possible, or create an opening to escape and delay the battle further.
"I believe I told you to cease with the nicknames, Lord of Spirits..."
Her voice is terse and to the point, an indication that her battle is quite the intensive one.
"You wouldn't happen to have a weapon among your treasures that can slay Dragons, would you?"
She makes no reply but a Gate of Babylon nonetheless drops some sort of unadorned spear into my hand, the weapon appearing more like a fisherman's choice of pole than it does a wyrm-slayer.
"The Reed Spear, used to kill Kur. That should suffice for one of your skill."
"Thank you very much, darling~!"
A grunt is her only response as I contact my dearest sister, inquiring, "Switch foes, Sister?"
A primal heave of her arms shoves aside Cruach's claw, allowing her a chance to run back towards me and reply, "Of course."
Ever the taciturn one, that girl…
"Going somewhere? I hope not, because you hurt me rea-URK!"
Caught off guard by Altera leaping into the air and simply slamming her legs into the back of it's skull Grendel stumbles forward, affording me an opportunity to sprint past it towards the Western Dragon.
One of it's reptilian eyes locks onto the spear-
-and it suddenly jerks it's head forward, black flames spewing forth from it's mouth and I barely manage to whirl to the side and avoid the stream-
-only to throw myself into a hasty backflip as it's tail slams into the ground where I had been, crushing solid rock into a fine powder.
Hmm...it's obviously aware of the spear's threat. How should I-
"Charge forward, Lord of Spirits. I will restrain it."
Momentarily surprised at Gilgamesh's intervention I nonetheless shrug and reply, "If you say so."
Crouching low and kicking off fast enough that the world seems to blur for a moment Cruach raises it's tail to once again strike-
-and with a metallic rattle chains sprout from several golden portals, constricting and entrapping the beast as it gives a roar of surprise.
Ah, that would be the Chains of Heaven at work then?
Not one to waste such a perfect opportunity I leap into the air, aim the spear directly at it's scaled forehead-
-and with a deafening shriek of strained metal Cruach manages to snap a few of the chains just as I launch the weapon, the spear headed towards it's chest instead of skull.
Well that is mildly unfortunate.
Nonetheless, the weapon still pierces through it's scales as if they were paper, embedding itself deep into the Dragon's chest cavity and causing it to let loose a pained roar, the rest of the chains being shattered in short order due to it's fury, despite their strength and supposed durability against deified beings.
Goodness, what a hardy creature…
"Altera? Could you be so kind as to switch opponents one more time?"
With that simple acknowledgement I roll backwards to avoid an enraged slap of the Dragon's talons, summoning a single Gáe Bolg as I rise to my feet, the King of Combat rushing to meet Cruach's frenzied charge.
"Ohh? Did you miss me? Well come on then! Let's hurt each other some more, girlie!"
I ignore the disturbing creature's ramblings and instead assume an Ochs stance, spear directed at the creatures heart.
While the creatures skin may be warded, does that protection extend to a technique designed to warp causality itself?
A crimson lance of energy fires towards Grendel, the universe seeming to shift as it does-
-and the Dragon stops in it's tracks, an expression of confusion adorning it's hideous features...as a small trickle of blood leaks from it's throat.
"He...heehee...HAHAHA! My heart! You stabbed my heart! Yes, c'mon! MORE!"
It's with no small amount of exasperation that I leap backwards from the demented Dragon's grasp, a frown I little control over appearing on my lips.
This is turning into quite the prolonged engagement...something we can ill afford right now.
A thought I have no time to address as both Altera and Gilgamesh come sliding to a halt next to me, their respective opponents closing in with snarls on their faces.
"We had best be ending this quickly, or fleeing should we be unable to do so. We have been fighting at no small amount of strength for quite some time now."
The Golden Queen fixes me with an incredulous gaze, her expression clear despite the full helm she's wearing.
"You would have us flee?! If that is a joke, it is one made in poor taste!"
"It is no joke, Queen of Uruk. Horatius has yet to contact us, something that worries me. We should-"
"Heh, I'll give you pretty little ladies credit, you sure know how to put up a fight~! But time's a wasting and nobody lives forever! Toodles!"
As soon as the grandstanding Devil finishes his speech and prompts all three of us to roll our eyes-
-a truly massive ball of something that feels like corrupted Prana gathers above his head, twelve bat-like wings ensconcing it as it continues to grow in a mind-bogglingly fast rate.
Stars above...it's the size of the castle we just left…
He launches the ball of oscillating Prana, the two Dragons jumping back to no doubt avoid the fallout-
"On my command manifest the strongest shields that you are able."
I don't have time to question the Queen of Heroes words as her eyes narrow in concentration, a gargantuan Gate of Babylon opening above us, disgorging some sort of colossal airship that snaps a green barrier into place to deflect the sphere, an ear-rending shriek emanating from the two clashing energies-
-and then the shields break, the ball of crackling energy tearing into the ship and destroying almost half of it before expending itself, ash and molten fragments of metal raining down upon the landscape.
A faint whoosh reaches my ears as a single light contrail is launched from the dying aircraft above us, the projectile looping through the air in a graceful motion-
-before it heads directly towards where we stand, an action quite similar to those of the 'ICBMs' Horatius has occasionally mentioned.
...Ahh. I see.
"Queen of Gold, what possessed you to think dropping the equivalent of this era's atomic weaponry directly on top of us was a good idea?"
"You requested a quick end to the fight. This will ensure it. Shields, now."
I don't bother questioning her sanity further, instead kneeling on the ground and hastily inscribing as many Skjold and Reduksjon Runes as I can, given the scant few seconds I have to work with.
The Queen of Heroes herself summons four discus shaped shields that layer themselves directly above us, Altera raising the Photon Ray so that it's perfectly vertical from her chest-
-and the three individual segments that make up the blade spring to life, whirling to create a tri-colored shield that ensconces us at a perfect 30 degree angle.
With no time left to continue creating Runes I spare a final glance at our adversaries-
-and smirk as I see them hidden behind several layers of some kind of Magic Circle construct, obviously having seen our preparations and scrambled to do the same.
And then the sky goes white.
A horrendous noise assails my ears, the temperature rises so sharply that were we not anything but Heroic Spirits we would be blackened clumps of flesh, a force far stronger than that of the Dragons smashes me backwards-despite our protections-and quite honestly I think the Queen of Heroes might have, as Horatius would put it, 'a screw loose'.
But as quickly as it came it passes, the weapon of Old India not entirely the same as it's modern counterpart.
No significant radiation or other harmful effects, for one thing.
I can't help but raise an eyebrow as I see Gilgamesh's four shields fall uselessly to the ground, their surfaces slagged and distorted from the heat.
That was perhaps a bit closer than I thought…
"See, Lord of Spirits? We yet live without so much as a burnt strand of hair."
"A feat I would most happilynot recreate in the future. What of our foes?"
As the ash and smoke mostly clears, revealing a gargantuan crater with burning rock and stone...I bite back on a sigh.
The three still live.
Wounded, obviously...but very much alive.
The two Dragons are glowing, the heat of the explosion obviously testing their scales durability to the limits while the Devil is slowly rising to his feet, skin sunburnt and his elegant robes mostly burnt away, unthinking hatred present in his eyes.
"Hmph, the worms still live? Allow me to-"
"Altera, Scáthach, Gilgamesh! Can any of you hear me?!"
...About time he finally contacted us!
"Yes, Master. We are here. Have you accomplished your task?"
"Yeah, I'm all set on my end, just laying low outside the castle for the moment, trying to catch my breath."
That causes me to scowl. Horatius saying he's out of breath is his way of saying that he's exhausted.
"Altera, Gilgamesh, we're leaving."
The Queen of Uruk scowls behind her helm and physically speaks aloud with, "We have our enemies before us in a weakened state and you would have us retreat?! Let us spend the time and effort necessary to end them while we can!"
I feel a bit of anger at her words and harshly reply, "It would not be your effort, Gilgamesh, but that of our companion who is relying on us to see him away safely. We're leaving."
Stubbornness is evidently a trait both versions of the Golden Hero share as she growls and opens her mouth-
"We do not know if those three are the only ones of power nearby. And they might not fall as easily as you seem to think, Queen of Heroes. Please, let us retreat. I do not wish for a hasty decision to lead to the injury of our Master."
My sister's simple-yet emotional-words seem to mollify the oldest Queen, only a half-hearted mutter of, "You mean your Master..." being her reply before a smaller Vimana appears in a blaze of golden light.
"Very well then, let us depart. Your pleas have...convinced me."
We smoothly leap onto the awaiting aircraft, all the while I calmly say, "See? I knew you weren't a cold-hearted Bitch."
The legitimately offended look I receive from the Queen is summarily ignored as I glance back at our three prior foes, now fully regaining their bearings and glaring at us as we speed away.
Sorry, gentlemen...but our fight will have to wait for another day.
THOSE ARROGANT LITTLE SLUTS!
How DARE they simply run, after everything they've done! After everything they've ruined!
So many years since I've been hurt.
The sensation of stabbing ice from burns, the glass in flesh feeling from a broken arm.
Killing those three isn't enough...no, I'll make an example out of them!
NOBODY insults a Lucifer and merely survives.
"Are you ok?"
I glance up in surprise, startled from my thoughts at the sudden appearance of Lilith.
"Where were you this entire time?!"
"In town. I wanted to buy sweets but had no money..."
Oh, how unfortunate.
"I returned to the castle like you said too, but the Vampire was dead and the Sacred Gear user was missing. So I went to find you and ask what I should do."
Grendel and Crom Cruach both immediately swing their heads at the imitation Ouroboros, mirroring my own action.
"Missing?! Where is she?!"
A single finger points over the horizon.
Precisely where those three Bitches had flown.
...No...no no no no no NO!
"Lilith, cutie pie?"
Her expression remain blank.
"I want you to find the ones who took the Vampire Girl with the Sacred Gear. Bring the Gear user back to me alive."
My fingers spastically twitch.
"AND BRING ME THE HEADS OF THE REST!"
Man...cold air has never felt so great.
Seated atop the front of the Vimana as it cuts through the skies is a great way to cool down after the dangerously high temperatures my body had reached during this little heist of ours...but it all worked out in the end!
Altera and Scáthach are perfectly normal, the Hunnic King silently fussing over me with a mildly furrowed brow while the Queen of Ulster curiously stares at the Vampire girl I picked up, said bloodsucker idly humming to herself and staring peacefully at the rapidly passing scenery.
It's Gilgamesh who's behaving...strangely?
She seems oddly subdued, staring at nothing with a distant look as the aircraft appears to pilot itself automatically.
"Hey, Altera, did something happen between Gilgamesh and you two?"
My first companion seems momentarily thoughtful before lightly shrugging and replying, "Perhaps she is thinking about her new family?"
I can't help but snort in amusement, chuckling as I respond with, "What, is she experiencing a bit of homesickness?"
I'm caught off guard by the frown she sends my way, her tone mildly admonishing as she says, "She is more Human than you and my sister give her credit for."
I'm about to inquire further about what that means when the sound of booted heels draws my attention, Scáthach leading Valerie over with a perplexed expression adorning her features.
"Yes, Miss Valerie?"
With an expression like that of a 3-year old imparting their deepest, darkest secrets she says, "Samuel-kun says that in the next five seconds you should jump from the aircraft, otherwise it will be destroyed by the Ouroboros Dragon chasing you."
Time seems to stop.
I would like to laugh...but this 'Samuel-kun's predictions have thus far been frighteningly accurate.
And did she say OUROBOROS DRAGON?!
"EVERYONE JUMP, NOW!"
Suiting actions to words I grab Valerie and leap off of the Vimana, a drop of at least 300 meters to look forward to-
-until to my intense relief Scáthach nosedives directly below us, casting a Vind rune that slows our descent to something less than terminal, Altera and-to my pleasant surprise-Gilgramesh dropping next to us as well.
I'd been worried she'd have been to distracted-or alternatively, too prideful-to make the leap on such a short notice.
And not a moment too soon, either.
Some massive black snake thing darts out seemingly nowhere and in a single clean bite destroys the Vimana, only the two wings continuing on their journey while the main body stays behind in that nasty looking maw.
Gilgamesh makes a brief 'tch' noise in annoyance and frankly I can't really blame her.
Today has been a little rough on her treasury…
A jolt runs through my legs as we land on broken ground, smack dab in the middle of nowhere which, quite honestly, is probably for the best if things are gonna get as destructive as I think they are.
What I'm not prepared for is the sudden rush of dizziness that hits me as I set the Vampire aside, a bit of cold sweat coating my brow and breath coming out in ragged clouds of steam.
Shit, I'm still not in the best of conditions...especially if we're going to be going up against one of the beings that was our end game…
"Master, are you-"
"I'm, fine, Altera. Well, not really, but it's not like we have a choice here..."
Her lovely crimson eyes briefly narrow in concern...but she seems to recognize that we aren't going to be able to pick this battle.
Instead all four of us, Valerie still absentmindedly staring at the sky, turn to where we can feel a truly monstrous presence approaching.
And I don't think I'm the only one that raises an eyebrow as instead of the gargantuan black snake thing that destroyed the Vimana...a little girl dressed in some sort of Victorian outfit calmly walks towards us, expression blank and not displaying anything remotely resembling an emotion.
She stops about twenty meters away from us, no one saying a word...until she tilts her head and matter-of-factly states, "Rizevim was angry. He says he wants you dead and the Vampire back."
And just like that shadows seem to spring to life around her, serpentine shapes with lethal looking fangs writhing in a mad dance as the Prana emanating from her seems to soar.
"I need you to die now. Sorry."
...She doesn't sound particularly sorry!
With a resigned sigh Scáthach turns to Gilgamesh and dryly asks, "I don't suppose you have any more nukes, do you?"
Boom, 3rd chapter completed!
I suppose I should head off any suggestions or comments on the 'process' behind the Gradation Air creation process now. Yes, I'm aware the process of making things was heavily abbreviated and even somewhat out of order (mainly the making of the explosives) but it was mainly meant to cover the core aspects of each item. I feel safe in assuming no-one really felt like reading a copy pasted article on the intricacies of creating nitroglycerin XD
Also while there was a little bit of play into how the Heroic Spirits stack up against the DxD universes bad guys, it was a short bout with no real conclusion or extensive use of Noble Phantasms.
Also because they now have to deal with the Ouroboros Dragon out to kill them.
Stay tuned for next chapter where Horatius and Irappu show what they can do given the right conditions!
And many thanks for all of the reviews and follows/favorites!
CherokiiTV: Technically only one OC (Horatius), the rest are all canon nasuverse and DxD characters :D my verbal nitpicking aside, glad you're enjoying the story!
Kshail: The year of the lootbox/microtransaction takes a heavy toll, none more so on creatures of avarice. EA may as well be the Devil of Devils...
Kinunatzs The Eternal: It wouldn't really make a difference if DxD was fictional in the Nasuverse one, since they're essentially trapped at the moment. And they definitely didn't read a bunch of Light Novels as research before making the jump, lol. And the 'advance knowledge' is going to be a fun bit of interaction that I'm planning on having turn around and bite everyone in the ass :D
FateBurn: It's not a totally successful heist yet (the fat lady hasn't sung), but it's been a real run-and-gun battle so far, hope you're enjoying!
123: More on the Servant later, there's a bit of a surprise worked into that :D glad you like my characterization of Gil, it's always a balancing act between making her likable and retaining her authority and imperiousness.
piddle: See 123's above reply, there's a twist I'm working on in regards to that request!
Guest: You more or less nailed it, having expectations about something that is a bit above and beyond said expectations is playing with fire. And not to mention these Heroic Spirits have been alive for decades and counting, you pick up and learn some interesting things over that expanse of time.
Dxhologram: Hopefully this chapter and the next provide a decent insight into what he's both capable of and limited by. And the DxD being fictional will play a decently important role, but there'll be a fair amount of cheek and humor to it.
Kinunatzs: See previous responses about the whole 'fictional' stuff, but it'd be hilarious to see the Angels get all excited about having a potential Yahweh return to them...and realizing Nasuverse God's are generally kinda shit 'people', not the loving father they all remember XD
fire99: See previous comment about the possibility of Yahweh making the jump. Although if Nasuverse Yahweh is as omnipotent and all-powerful as supposedly it is...then it obviously hasn't bothered to visit DxD in the first place.
Ouch. Sorry Angels, but daddy no longer loves you.
superpiece: A number of things, really. He kinda came together out of an amalgamation of both plot convenience and original ideas. I wanted to do something with the concept of a person who has spent their entire life exploring and is defined by that, as well as giving weight to their experience. I also wanted someone who could relate to some of the older Heroic Spirits on a personal level, as someone who had been alive during the times when they walked the Earth.
There's alot more to it, obviously, but then I'd be writing a LOT in what is mostly just an AN. Happy to hear you're liking him so far!
And thanks to all others who reviewed! Even though I didn't reply, I appreciate your words (letters?) and am looking forward to more feedback!