Beta'd by eveakane and gaouw back at QQ forum.
The last joke of the critically acclaimed comic book "The Killing Joke" goes something like this:
There were these two guys in a lunatic asylum, and one night they decided they don't like living in the asylum anymore, they decided they are going to escape. So they get onto the roof and there, just across a narrow gap they see the rooftops of the town stretching away in the moonlight, stretching away to freedom. Now the first guy jumps right across with no problem, but his friend didn't, he was afraid of falling down. So the first guy has an idea. He says "Hey, I have my flashlight with me, I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings, you can walk along the beam and join me. The second guy shakes his head. "Do you think I'm crazy!?" He says "You'd turn it off when I was halfway across".
Our current situation kinda reminds me of that, the whole "walking on a beam of light" thing.
"Jesus…" Artyom says as he looks at the violent shifting sea of branches and snow violently rasping on the edge of our tunnel of light.
"Oh, don't even get me started on that guy." I rolled my eyes and turned to Belinda. "How are you holding up?"
I'm not worried about her; Belinda is a badass devil that could absolutely handle being under the shine of the holy light. Hell, I'd be confident to bet that she could handle a Vatican church without being instantly vaporized, and so, of course, this little light show isn't going to-
Oh fuck, she is smoking slightly.
…ok, I'm a little bit worried.
Despite what I was seeing and what must be an ever-accumulating pain, my maid showed no signs of it, nor did she appear to be weakened by the light even though her top half looked like it was about to catch fire.
She turned a serious and unflinching gaze to me.
"Is that what you feel each time you do this, Elias?" She said, and I could hear a stern 'We'll be talking about this later' and a very, very well-hidden hiccup of worry in her voice.
Goddamn it. It's times like these that I consider putting some of her mental blocks back on.
"Guys, I…" Artyom interrupted. Thank you, Artyom. "I can't make heads or tails about this. I… I don't know where we are."
"The forests never acted like this before, right?" I looked at him and smiled. "Oh, believe me, this is a surprise for us too. For what we know about illusions, they are not supposed to act like this. The reaction is just too dynamic to be set by a caster, and…" I thought back at our magic and how they interacted with the environment. Hell, the fact that they even managed to interact with anything in the first place is… "Everything 'round here is too… tactile to be an illusion, yet it is, somehow. It's fascinating."
"Might not be. Might be spatial magic. I've seen rigged pocket dimensions before." Belinda added, thankfully bringing the focus back on something important.
I shook my head, happy to share my knowledge like the cute magical dork I am.
"If this were, I would have been cut off from the shadows." Space magic; my shadow magic's only weakness… for now. "And it wouldn't make sense with what we know about the phenomenon. Pocket dimensions are required to be maintained by an active party at all times, and a fuckload of energy is required for them to grow past their initial core casting structure. That means the caster or casters would have to be constantly focusing on the spell for over three years to make it work the way it is, and all this effort would require enough energy to make a Satan sweat. And that's not even considering the nature of the dimension; I mean, a snowy forest with eldritch creatures that react to your presence and can attack in coordinated hordes? Unless you're telling me this is Beelzebub's vacation house or something, I'm placing my bets on an illusion."
"Which doesn't discount the energy problem or the complex reactions we're getting," Belinda commented. "And the fact that our magic interacts with the things here, yet don't on the other side, with by itself shouldn't be possible… Just what the hell is this place?"
A feast for my magical eyes is what is it. Practically a crash course on 'weird illusion magic that you can learn - and what was that about illusion magic principles? You can throw that shit out of the window. We won't be needing it here.'
I know I shouldn't be giggly given everything, but I'm a little giggly.
"A fucking headache is what it is," Artyom said, and then flinched when the face of something hit the walkway of light around us, and get shred by its reality anchoring proprieties. "Fucking… How the hell do we even know where we're going in the first place?"
"Mother woke up. I'm helping her discern between which shadows are real. She is sending me feedback about the way we must go based on the ways the two types of shadow interact."
It's easier to do that on the other side, so she claims.
"There is that mother talk again." The teenager grumbled.
Now, how to describe our little journey? Ahead of us, an uneventful path of trees and soft snow, illuminated only by the light I was producing. Around us, a whirling perspective that stretched for an unnecessary continental length, where every turn was marked by the apparition of mind-breaking horrors that crashed against our shield in a tireless frenzy to get inside and through the line that separates reality from unreality.
Eventually, the shifting ether gave way to a snowy clearance. The light directed us to a metal gate, while the world around it straightened itself into something that made sense.
We could hear the creaking, like bones grinding together in the distance, like cords twisted over itself until the limit. The source of the noise was unmistakable.
Beyond the gates, beyond the barren, snowy field, there was a structure made from flesh and concrete that jutted out towards the sky, swirling over itself like an unholy spiral that built around itself like a twisted mockery of modern architecture, which by itself is already a mockery.
Unholy amounts of eyes and mouths reacted to our approach, pus and mucus oozed out, dripping over the building's leathery skin to accumulate on the ground around it, turning the snow into a yellow, gurgling substance with a greenish hue.
We stared at that… thing for a full minute, before Artyom lost his dinner.
"You didn't tell us that the mansion was a tower," I asked, my mouth dipping downwards. "Shall we start a list of the things you forgot to mention?"
Vomit boy finished his business and held up a hand, asking for a moment to recompose.
"It's… not. The mansion is a little bigger than before, but it never looked like..." He looked up again and made to hurl, but managed to keep it in. "This monstrosity… I've never seen it this bad."
"Please don't tell me we have to climb this thing," Belinda said, trying to gauge its height.
"I don't know, I've never been inside, I told you. From this point on, I'm blind."
"Nobody ever told you what they found in there?" The maid asked, still trying to find an excuse to not go inside, or, more accurately, not waste time going inside.
I looked back at the goo as it began to quiver. Soon, in the grossest example of transmutation I've ever seen, a half-formed elephant was working its way out. There was nothing but a bestial sort of hate in its eyes, and they were laser-focused on us.
"Figured out where all those animals come from," I comment as I brought my hands together, turning the beam of the holy light off for the first time since I cast it.
The world itself closed in on our position.
For about a second, before a piercing mass of light pushed it back explosively into the proper place.
Illusion died, and the truth was revealed under the light of this new mini sun of holy light.
I threw the sphere to the air, where it arched like a shooting star on its way to the top — stopping close to the living monster structure before it exploded into a light of unmatched intensity for a single moment. The building literally screeches in agony as its flesh unraveled in specks of lights.
A bubble of reality quickly formed, and the monstrous tower became a mansion again. Old, a bit run down, but definitely a completely average, lived-in human residency.
Belinda grunted, her skin now producing a low hiss as it cooked.
My eyes widened. "Shit. Sorry about-."
"We will talk later. For now, let's get inside. To the shade." She muttered the last part.
"Ah. D-Did you just?" Artyom sounded shocked, though none of us stopped to check on him. Our objective is right there, no more delays. "I mean, what now- can I even…"
I silenced him by gesturing him to follow us. Might as well after all of this.
The door creaked as we pushed it open, and for the first time in years, steps echoed inside the empty mansion.
I looked around its dark interior. Taking in the dilapidated wallpaper of what once was a beautiful pattern. Hearing the quiet clicking of the old crystal furniture as the vibrations our movements produced reach them. The front room was dark even with the beaming light outside, not a hurdle for Belinda or me, but Artyom will probably need a few seconds before he could see anything.
I took a few creaking steps in, hearing the tapping of my boots against the dusty floor. "There is dust, but no difference in the layers… Artyom, is this the first time someone entered this mansion while it was not partially monstrous?"
"Yeah." He said, rubbing his eyes as if this would make them adapt faster. "What are we looking for?"
"Clues." Belinda cuts in. Pulling a deep breath, then slowly letting out. "… Three years old clues, on a place that has been investigated many times before."
"No use getting worked up about it now. We need to look around the place, anywhere Nadia might have stayed, or might have some document about the vampire,"
Still, three years is a long time. Belinda is right to worry.
If the worst comes to happen and we don't find anything, I'll hunt down the ones that have been here before us and make them talk. A bit tricky considering their affiliation to the many magical organizations around Russian though. It would have to be done quietly.
Only as plan B, of course, I still wanted to try my hand looking for clues around here.
Thus began our task of prowling the empty rooms and cavernous halls of the mansion looking for clues, which was… actually pretty hard.
Even with the early monsterfication of the structure, time seemed to have pass normally. There were signs that the place used to be inhabited, like rotten food, leftover clothes, and some marks left behind on the furniture, there were also traces of old blood but considering that this was a mansion where a vampire once made its lair, this was normal, and the traces of old blood were everywhere.
I was at the stairs, looking at a particular long stain on the previously whitish wall.
The steps beneath me, going down the staircase, were also darker.
"There is WAY too much underwear around here!" I hear Artyom grumble loudly as he exited one of the rooms.
He flinched, surprised to see me crouching by the stairs, he recovered with only a slight blush.
"Clothes, too many clothes." He cleaned his throat. "The rooms they're… still mostly furnished. Whoever was living here didn't try to move."
"Or left everything behind," Belinda remarked as she surged from a door in the corner carrying a few books. "Library's been ransacked. I don't know if it was the vampire or the mages." She went to her knees close to me, laying down four books for me to see and opening them in specific pages. She pressed her finger on the words. "Vinton Cipher… in a written language I can't make heads and tails about. But I saw it in a book in the castle's library, so you probably had read it." I lean in to see the words and immediately caught the unique code. "What can you tell us?" Even Artyom perked up interested at that.
I reach up and rearranged the books so that they were in the correct order, putting one upside down in relation to the others, and another diagonally.
A message began to appear.
"Sanguineoum, an European vampire language, not among their core ones, though." Unlike the Devils, vampires didn't have an older-than-time unholy tongue that could serve as their 'main' languages, so they use a council of elders to decide whichever is going to be the one used on official matter for the century or something like that, among the list of languages were many that they came out with themselves. The books were vague as shit about this, though. "It's missing the last two parts, but from what I can see." Both my companions lean in. "It's a mission report, directed towards this Edward Kullen, something about a delivery, no, the escort to a delivery group… What's The Requiem Of the Night?"
Sounds like a prophecy… please, Satans don't let this be a prophecy.
Belinda shrugged, but to our surprise, Artyom had an answer. "Vampire mercenary group." He explained with a frown. "Is that guy a member?" He asked, harshly.
I knew what he meant.
"Considering they are reporting to him, though not like messaging a superior, more like to keep him informed… I'd say yes."
There was something palpable in the air after I said that. Artyom pierced the open books with a fixed stare. Eyes widened in disbelief. Belinda went still, I noticed her tightening the grip on her emotions.
This is a genuine clue, nothing about Nadia yet, but we just got a solid lead. And solid lead from a clue three years old, with less than an hour of searching…
"I'm going to continue looking. Maybe there is something I missed." Belinda jumped to her feet and made her way back. She was visibly more… herself.
"…I…" Artyom took a breath to calm himself. "Right!" He patted his jacket for a moment, producing a small dowsing rod. "I have this… thing that is difficult to use, but it should let me catch leftover traces of magic no matter how old it is… somehow. I'll scan downstairs and call you if I find anything."
With that, he brushed past me with quick steps, barely noticing as he pressed me to the wall.
I couldn't help but smile at that. Even something this simple is enough to set them off…But then again, a ray of hope, even if a bit premature for my taste, is still a powerful motivator.
The shadows of the handrail trembled in an almost frustrated way, and yet again, mother sent me a tearful apology to my mind, which I immediately reassured, of course.
Even outside the direct shine of the sun of holy light I've created, its holy presence still saturated the air. Belinda wasn't burning anymore, thankfully, but she must still be highly bothered by it, and my mother can't even access the shadows of this part of the 'surface' from within the shadowlands, the holiness here jammed her demonic energy if she tries.
… Another sign of how… alien I must seem to a regular devil. Sure, I had to deal with this exact effect the first few times I tried to use both energies at the same time, but I long since got used to it, and my energies themselves, both sides of the coin, got used too.
No time to ponder about that. I, too, must give my all.
So I poured my holy-resistant demonic energy, making my shadow spread across every inch of this mansion. Artyom let out an exclamation as the waves of blackness crawled under his feet, Belinda simply raised the document she was reading from the table so the shadows wouldn't hide the scripts-
Jamming, twisting, illusion- What the hell!?
There is a part where…
I hitched a breath, crossing the stairway and the corridors while my shadow snapped back in place. When I open the door to the small library/main office, Belinda raised her eyes from the report she was reading and caught my look.
"What did you find?" She asked, rising from the chair.
"Hidden passage," I said, stepping in front of a particular part of the wall.
The maid frowned, "It was the first thing I looked…"
A sphere of holy light formed over my hand that soon became a beam that cuts through the wooden wall, making it sink upon itself the way wood never would.
"It was hidden under the same type of illusion…"
An illusion that is now fighting against the light.
Artyom burst through the door.
"Guys the forest outside!-"
"Let me guess; it's fading." I gritted my teeth. "It's focusing on the illusion right here. Not that it would help."
With a flick of my fingers, I widened the gap the beam of light has made and formed a circular arch that forced back the part of the wall-that-never-was, revealing…
Splintered wood, deep gashes, and a way down.
"Signs of battle," Belinda observed, watching the truth revealed by the arch. She hesitantly pushed her head through it. "There is an elevator cable. No sign of the actual elevator. The fall is around 700 to 800 meters deep." And of course, the next thing that came from her mouth was: "I'm going in."
Then she jumped. The darkness briefly flashing from the summoning of her maid armor.
"Okay, that happened," Artyom said. "I think I can work on something to bring us down there…" He trailed off when he saw my smile.
To the kid's credit, he bore the 800 meters drop through the utterly dark tunnel stoically.
I created a bubble of air to soften our landing for his sake, crushing even more of the remains of the elevator in the process. From the base of the tunnel, there was a long, caved corridor that seems to stretch forever.
Belinda had stopped a few meters in.
"I thought it was too obvious." She explained.
"Yeah," I said, casting holy light across the wall. Chasing away the darkness and making Belinda let out a grunt of pain.
The end of the corridor became visible.
"Shit, is this it?" Artyom said as he joined us.
"Do you think anybody else reached this place?" I asked him.
"I don't… fuck, this is unbelievable to me, ok?"
"Let's get on with this," Belinda said as she roughly pushed the fortified door off its hinges and into the chamber.
I think constant exposure to holy light is making her grumpy, that and the stress from these latest series of events must be building off.
"Alright, here we go," Artyom whispers as we both follow after the maid.
… We almost bumped into her; on the first steps of what I now could see was a mage's workshop.
Of course, this realization only happened in the backdrop of my mind, as I was too busy staring at… something else.
In a way… It mirrored the vision of the mansion the illusion projected, an enormous tower of black flesh and building structures piercing up toward the heavens.
There is no heaven here, only the ceiling, and it wasn't a tower of black flesh piercing it… The flesh was red, raw and bleeding, with veins, organs, and exposed nerves all jutting out from a mass of muscle, bones and metal. Skin, brains, hearts, lungs, stomachs, and even whole humanoid forms were recognizable across the unholy structure of mangled flesh that glared at us with many human eyes that looked proportionally tiny on its hulking whole.
Artyom fell to his knees beside us, the few remaining contents on his stomach soon painted the bloodstained floor, only adding to the stank of metal and rot.
"…What the fuck is that." Belinda whispered, taking a step forward.
As if the vision and the smell weren't enough, the approach causes a reaction; it began to scream, cry, growl, wail and moan all at the same time over multiple different mouths.
My stomach curled.
"This is an illusion." The maid snapped her head towards me. "Elias, this is an illusion, right!?"
I… took a deep breath.
"It's real. It's…" Analyze, you are the only one here that can... the only one without attachment. "It appears to be a tangle of melted bodies, as we can see from the extremities where the bodies looked somewhat in the right shape while connected to a much larger whole that became messier and less coherent as it approaches the center." I informed her and myself, my mouth working automatically. "The metal bits are… the ones not tangled in the flesh, not most of them still whole, so I can… I can recognize most of them. They are Sacred Gears... Illusion based ones has expected..."
The collar of my sweater was roughly pulled to the side, Belinda's dark blue eyes bore down on mine, her pupils were at the size of pin tips.
"Oi Elias, what the fuck are you saying!?" She shook me a little. "Is Nadia in this thing!?"
There were another hurling sounds beneath the grotesque moans of the thing as Artyom added more to this bile.
"I don't know!" I said, shaking her off. "Calm down. We have to verify it first before we draw any conclusions!"
Belinda gritted her teeth as the thing let out a particular loud wail. "And how the hell are we going to do that!?"
"Stop screaming in my face so I could think would help!"
That made her flinch back. I could practically see her reining her emotions back in.
"My apologies." She says briskly, professionally. "We should investigate, see to these notes, and marking… this looks like a ritual chamber."
A ritual chamber with, like she said, several piles of notes, documents, and equipment that one would imagine being cleaned out in preparation for a ritual, though most of them looked burned or destroyed. The complex magical circle that spread across the room was mostly intact, with the meshed thing in the dead center of it. The lines seem a bit uneven, which tells me that they were hastily made. That or the caster was too inept to make proper lines, and with the complexity presented in them, I doubt it was the latter.
"F-Fuckkkkk, what the fuck is this sick bullshit!"
"You can wait outside Artyom," Belinda said as she walked around the center, carefully avoiding what she could see of the marking on the ground, those that were not hidden by the bloodstains that is. "You don't have to see this."
Like I said, the mesh of flesh and Sacred Gears had more concrete forms on the extremities than the center. There was one it particular that looked like a fully formed body of a girl with that added flesh attached to her waist and right arm. When Belinda got close, this body lunged towards her with a cry, detaching its arm from the whole and flailing around by her waist. The maid barely acknowledged it as she dodged.
I, however, could see the long string of flesh that was left in the place of her detached arm…
Ignoring the wobbly human beside me, I took a few steps toward it, staying just out of range of the grasping limbs.
"I have an idea," I said and sent my shadow forwards.
My shadow met the one projected from the tangle of flesh, and my mother's jealousy echoed across my mind even in this inappropriate time. This isn't something I do as much anymore, only with her and usually without thinking, so I could see how she started to believe it was a special thing we got going on. She quickly reined in her jealousy though, and I could feel that she had accepted it for the cause.
I closed my eyes, forcefully merging our shadows deeper, until they became essentially one. It was harder than with mother's because I had to do all the work, and this shadow is much less receptive than hers, but I managed.
The volume of the noises the thing was making lowered. Its movements started slowing down, most likely focusing on the weird new sensation… With the parts of its equally tangled mind that were capable of focusing, I suddenly realized.
Regardless, now comes the most challenging part, something I had only managed to do it perfectly once, with my mother all those years ago. I've gotten better since then, but because of this non-Dantalion shadow of mangled body and mind, it's almost guaranteed that I wouldn't have a perfect result.
No matter, it is for a worthy cause, and I hope it'll be enough.
This thing has a shadow, a shadow that was once many, but a shadow nevertheless, an eternal companion that has been with it throughout its entire existence. For everything that is, casts a shadow.
Sister… of course… it would be… star… cradling.
Violent… baby… carousel… apple… jumping… dancing.
Thank you… Knight of the rubber duck… Love you forever…
Daddy fuck me more… why is this doggy doing… it hurts it hurts it hurts Please!.
Sense, by the power of greyskull, two cups of sugar…
ALL THE COLORS ARE SINGING!
Multiple streams of memories. Rotten, corrupted, incomplete, and out of place, like pieces of several jigsaw puzzles mixed into a bowl and set partially on fire, descended upon my mind.
Hard to place, hard to experience, hard to make sense of it.
FUCK that! I'm the goddamn shadowlord! Fuck this mangled state! YOU THINK I'M INCAPABLE OF ORGANIZING IT MYSELF!?
She watched the cards move according to the rules… these rules and conditions, they all depended on what people saw and how they saw it. She loved things that depended on what people saw; those were particularly easy to twist. Las Vegas, the jewel of Mojave Desert, soon knew what she was called, but never her real face, she was very careful about that.
One night, she met a handsome man who could see through things she twisted.
She had an imaginary friend, no one believed her when she said wasn't imaginary, but her parents smiled and rubbed her head when she mentioned them. Eventually, as she grew older, the smiles and head rubs were replaced by worried looks, so she stopped mentioning him. He never left though, always doing what she told him to and keeping her safe when she needed it, an invisible guardian no one believed she had.
One cloudy day, she fell in love with a prince that believed her, she didn't understand why her guardian tried to protect her from him though, they were in love!
The world wasn't dull anymore. Now it was brimming with excitement! Magic is real, fairies existed, and she apparently had superpowers! Clearly, she was meant to be a hero, to don the cape and a mask and call herself the super mage misty illusionist girl!... The name's a work in process…
She hears rumors about a vampire. A vampire! Can you believe it!? She'd better see to it, and if he was hot enough, maybe she could go full Buffy fufufu!
Her father tried to leave the supernatural behind. He had told her the full story behind it after he deemed her mature enough. She was really proud that the occasion happened in her teenage years. She agreed with her father; she wanted nothing to do with it, firmly believing it would bring nothing but trouble; it was her choice.
As the extremely pale man that was to conduct her job interview smiled his inhumanly pointy smile, she knew her choice mattered nothing, for the supernatural has come for her.
So many women, adults, teens, children… Their cleanest and latest memories are of the meeting with the vampire named Edward, it doesn't take long for him to enchant their minds after it, turning their more recent memories into traumatic hazes.
I couldn't see all, many were missing, others were broken by pain or twisted by insanity, but there was always something, always a piece of one of the girls that made this pile.
None of the lives I've seen looked remotely like Nadia's.
"She is not there."
I heard Belinda hiccuping, and realized she has moved to my side. Her hand laid on my shoulder, where she gave a thankful squeeze.
'Are you sure' she didn't ask it; she apparent trusted my ability a hundred percent. She just asked:
"Where is she, then?"
…It's somewhat weird receiving this level of trust from someone other than my mother.
But I wouldn't find Nadia looking at the shadow of this twisted thing made out of innocent women. No, I needed to change my tactics.
Taking a deep breath, I prepared for something a bit untested.
"That's what I'm about to find out," I said as I cut the shadow connection and directed it someplace else.
I've held the theory of what I'm about to do for a very long time but I never had the time, or the opportunity to test it. It would be a useful ability if it was possible, but it had practically no combat application, so I've always pushed it to the side in favor of more training, focusing on things that felt more urgent.
Now, though, the opportunity is perfect.
My shadow separated itself over and over again, forming an intricate spider web that just kept growing and expanding. In this room, it connected itself to the lonely furniture on the corner, to every piece of burnt paper scattered across the ground, to the discarded books under a fallen bookcase.
And through the corridor it continued, rising upward from the tunnel, passing the arc of light, and separating again to connect to every single object on the library/office. After this, it slipped from under the door to the rest of the mansion, continuing its relentless merging until my shadow was deeply connected to every single thing in this place, and a bit of the destroyed garden outside.
Everything that is, cast a shadow. And a shadow by its nature doesn't change. Sure, each individual shadow is affected by the source it is attached to, but that's like hanging different types of decorations onto a Christmas tree; it does make it unique, but it is still a tree in the end.
The shadows record the history of whatever it is attached to. On a living being, this fact is deeply connected to its memories, so when I pull its history from their shadow, the memory comes together with it. However, every shadow does that, even those attached to inanimate objects.
I have no idea what it will come when I pull, it can't be the memories because inanimate objects lack the ability to produce them, but I'm confident I'll at least get something.
This is untested, unknown. And therefore, dangerous.
But it's worth it; for Belinda.
The world is filled with air, so the air is always in contact with something. Air is also always vibrating into several different patterns, these patterns are caused by the constant movement of everything in this world. Not all patterns are the same, some are bigger or more vibrant than others, this is caused due to 'proximity', patterns also come in many types but one is particularly noticeable, this is a highly complex and turbulent pattern called 'words'.
Right now, words are bouncing around the room.
Each word was followed by a thud of hard contact between a table and a book, symbolizing the fact that the books were being dropped onto the table.
"Tck." The sharp vibration and the microscopic droplets of saliva on the floor suggested a click of the tongue. "I've already read everything! When is that pedophile going to restock this place with something new!"
Fluttering in the air, a flash in the mirror carrying subtle differences in the light it reflected, suggesting a yellow golden color; blonde hair fluttering in the air, impact, and pressure on the floor that indicated movement. She walked.
A chair was pulled from its place in front of the book-filled table, the woods of the floor and the bottom of the chair's legs creaking loudly. A sudden pressure fell on the cushion of the chair.
The pressure suggested the curve of a bountiful rear; the weight showed that the size of the rear was slightly unbalanced with the thin shape of the body. A wave of very long blonde hair fell almost to the ground.
The mirror on the table now reflected the light directly. Revealing a girl whose pretty features were scrunched into a frown. Her nostrils flared as she buffed.
"Ah, another unproductive today, I'll have to ask him directly but, urg!" Movement, an elbow resting on the table, the mirror reflected the girl rubbing her temples.
"Maybe it's time to ditch him…"
The girl never noticed the creature crawling on top of the bookshelf; it's tiny paws and sharp claws biting slightly into the wood. She also never noticed how the cold body downstairs stopped humping air.
She certainly noticed when the air was overwhelmed by the flustering hundred pairs of wings of creatures similar to the spying one.
"You little bitch!" Different words came from everywhere in a graver tone. A body was formed on the point where the small flustering creatures converged, what appeared from it smashed the girl against the table, throwing the chair, books, and mirror to the floor.
There was struggle, screams, and the air was disturbed by overwhelming chaos.
In the end, the girl was pinned by the much larger man.
"How long have you been playing this little game!?" Vibrations presented a different pattern; the girl was being choked. "Did you find it fun? Humiliating me like that!? Did you think I wouldn't notice!?"
A grunt, a muffed wail, a cry, liquid met the floor, tears, blood. There are injuries.
"Hah! How precious. You think this would work again~." Vibrations indicated that the girl was desperately trying to inhale air, the bits of cold skin indicated she was scratching the man in an attempt to get free. "I have countermeasures against your eye!"
A loud acidic hiss echoed across the room, and the girl screamed as much as she could under the chokehold. Her body contorted under his.
"Now do you understand where you're at little bitch!? I'll show you what happens when you try to fool your betters!"
And so he did.
The mansion told stories of what he did.
The girl's screams bounced frequently against the walls, pieces of her occasionally impacted the floors, the wood drank deeply from her blood.
He paraded her around, almost like he wanted to leave a mark of her across the whole mansion. Every corner was used, every object contributed in some way to the girl's prolonged torture. In the end, he succeeded in his task of marking her across the place.
The saga of pain and suffering ended twelve hours after his rampage started. It took this long for his rage to subside. By the end, the girl was barely alive, her body broken and crippled, forever.
He dragged her across the corridors, pulling her to the room he was using as his own. He threw her broken body on his bed, not caring how the crimson blood soaked the previously white sheets.
The girl let out a coarse cry as he dug his fingers in the exposed muscles of her useless leg. Gripping around her bones as he pulled her body until the mangled legs fell off the edge of the bed, and her bountiful hips resting directly over it.
"And now, my dear Nadia, before you die, I'll take what you've been denying me all this time." He declares, tearing his belt from his pants.
The girl let out a gurgling whine as he raises her hips and forcefully spread her legs open, forcing pressure over her broken kneecaps.
It was ironic then that he, just like the girl, didn't notice the crawling creature until it was too late.
More precisely, when he reaches out to his member to position it against the girl's entrance, he flinched back with a loud, shrill hiss that bounced across the entire mansion. His body dissolved into a flock of bats just as an arachnid corpse hit the floor.
Then, from everywhere and everything, a black cloud rose, quickly overwhelming the flustering of the bat with an all-encompassing buzz of an enormous swarm.
The flock put up a fight, the marked walls and knocked furniture reported on that, but for each insect a bat killed, hundreds more crawled over their bodies, sticking and biting and pushing enough venom into the vampire's animal parts for even a partially undead creature like him to feel it. Nadia curled over herself as much as she could as the swarm grew thicker, louder, and ever more violent.
Soon, there was a crash; a partially reformed body falling on the corner of the room, using a nightstand to prop himself to a sitting position.
When Edward the vampire fully reformed, with clothes in tatters and bite marks all over his body, he looked up the now converging swarm of insects and cursed. The converging point, like him, also formed into a vampiric shape.
New pressure on the floors told stories of a feminine body of waifish proportions, standing taller than Nadia but not as tall as the vampire. The lack of fluttering around its form indicated a lack of clothes, or clothes that cling tightly to the skin. The tapping of the sole against the floor indicated footwear made of strange material. Differences in the light revealed armor plates of that same material.
"She Who Skitters In The Dark." The very low vibrations coming from the fallen vampire indicated a quiet muttering. The other of his kind continued to regard him blankly with lenses that shone yellow. "Keh, is that a way to treat a valuable asset, oh my esteemed sponsor of the Carmilla faction? I do have a mail address, you know?"
Emotion couldn't be sensed by objects, but some emotions, some emotions have power behind them, Love was one of them, an emotion that transcended the realm of a mere emotions; it could anchor a soul on the physical plane after death, create an impenetrable barrier around an ancestral home, and even make life prevail when it shouldn't be possible.
Hate was another…
And by the amount of hate that sank into the walls, it was clear to all that the female vampire hated the male one.
"Do you, my lord?" The hinges creaked quietly as the door of the room was softly pushed open. A new, gracious pair of footsteps made their way inside the room. "Doesn't that betray the purpose of your… seclusion? Making you easier to find? Easier to track? I can't see why you'd want that."
The vampire tensed with the appearance of the other woman, but relaxed just as quickly. "Ah, a proper lady rather than a mindless tool. I was afraid they would insult me further by sending only this skittering thing." The vampire rose to his feet, ignoring the state of his dress and the bleeding girl on the bed. "Hm, it appears that have me at a disadvantage, my lady. Though if I could be so forward, I'd say your fine features place you squarely at the noble house of the Livsey." His weight shifts into a deep, respectful bow. "I humbly thank you for coming all the way from the New World to grace this one with your presence."
"My, what a devilish charmer you are, my lord. I can see now why the meat downstairs flocks around you." An ornamented fan lightly waved, disturbing the air. "However, as much as it would delight me to exchange pleasantries, I'm afraid we have to focus on your sudden and very unannounced seclusion."
"Ah, I'm afraid reports about this 'seclusion' of mine have been greatly exaggerated, I'd merely wish for a quick vacation! Brilliant minds need rest too…"
There was a quiet thud, the elegant fan meeting a gloved hand.
"Ah, but this vacation caused quite a stir, especially with your continued possession of the precious artifact the Carmilla faction had gracefully lent to you for the sole purpose of research."
"And I assure you that it was for research I've kept it. After all, I do have to keep my end of the bargain, have I not? An honorable contract that, might I inform you, is still very much within the deadline established."
"But my lord, weren't you on vacation?"
"Oh, a genius such as me can never fully stop working, I assure you that even here I continue to work tirelessly in favor of the faction's desires."
"My lord... It seems more and more likely that the reason for my visit was caused by nothing more than a grave misunderstanding…"
"Ah, the bane of all good relationships."
"Indeed, still, it would be a shame to let this opportunity go. Would you like to join me for a bit of tea... and a conversation?"
"Oh, my lady." The vampire bowed again. "It would be my honor…"
She brushed her elegant fan against her lips, revealing that, on that very moment, they were curled into a smile that could only be described as 'vulpine'.
There was a talk, a long one, over untouched tea that grew cold.
The talk was a prelude to the chaos that followed.
Once more, history was written on the walls of the mansion, this time a history of battle, of victory, of defeat, and of dark sacrifice.
"FUCK!" Said the eternally young blonde woman, without a single trace of her ladylike behavior from earlier. "Didn't think he would actually have progressed the research to this point."
They were now standing on the poorly kept garden outside, having just fought against a large group of Sacred Gear wielders and bore witness to the horrifying fusion of their bodies and powers that befell upon them. The fusion's combined power was already bleeding out from the basement and visibly starting to affect the building.
"Ah well, at least we got what we came here for." She says, wiggling the deceptively small pile of paper containing the core of the Carmilla's Faction precious research with one hand, and pulling a sack that was weighed down by something that would normally take five adult men to raise, over her shoulder. "Urg! Can you believe that guy!? I'm glad we're replacing him!"
"Hn." Was her companion's quiet answer, it could barely be heard from inside her mask.
The blonde vampire looks curiously at the bodysuit-wearing one. "Hey… Why the hell are you bothering with this girl? She's going to die, you know?"
She received no answer to that. The insect-user just continued to hold Nadia's mangled form in her arms.
The blonde clicked her tone. "You and your bleeding heart…" She sighed. "Come on, let's get out of here, the boss must want a report as soon as possible."
Wordlessly, the two vampires women and the injured Nadia melted away into the darkness of the forest. Leaving the twisting mansion and it's contagious illusion magic behind.
I woke up to the vision of my Mother worriedly looking over me, with Belinda in the background.
Not a bad thing to wake up to, even if their worrying stares don't fit the image I usually like.
"Hey-" I said, before realizing I was lying down, with my torso in my mother's arms. "What the hell?"
"You fell down suddenly and I…" Mother spoke with a bit of trembling edge. "You're bleeding!" Her blood-red eyes were looking a bit… frenzied.
Absentmindedly, I raise my fingers to touch the warm spot below my nostrils. Blood.
I guess folding my mind in unnatural ways so I could perceive the world in the technically not real perspective of inanimate objects put a tiny bit of stress on my brain.
Whatever, is not that much blood, and I got used to it towards the end.
"I'm fine. But more importantly, I found out where Nadia is! Well, where she was taken-"
"Never do that again."
Mother loomed over me with a shadow cast over her too neutral expression, her crimson eyes gleaming.
"Never do that again."
"…O-ok, sorry mom."
After that, my mother couldn't hold it anymore, she immediately latched the rest of her body onto mine, trying to fuse us in a more heartwarming way than the other fusion in the room.
"BWUAAAHHH! ELYYY! MOMMY WAS SO WORRIED, YOU NEVER EVER PASSED OUT LIKE THAT BEFORE, AAND THE BLOOD! SO MUCH BLOOD AHHH!"
I began to pat her silky hair as she buried her comically crying face on my chest. Her still larger body pinning me down like a sexy marshmallow blanket.
"There, there, nothing bad happened. I'm fine now," I reassured her while Belinda approached from the side.
"Elias I…" Her eyes were downcast and the grip on her sword trembled. "I'm so sorry."
I kept dragging my hands over my mother's hair as I turned to the maid. "This is literally not your fault."
She bit her lower lip, making me want to hug her.
"If I wasn't so insistent, you wouldn't have put yourself in danger."
"You didn't tell me to do anything. It was my own choice." I sighed, putting my head back on the cold metal floor of the workshop. " And now I know where we must go next."
This is starting to get complicated. Part of me was hoping we'd find Nadia at the end of the forest, hell, even if she was within that nightmarish fusion it would've been better, as I could always bullshit my way to a solution…
But no, looks like we're sticking our heads neck-deep in vampire conspiracy because, for some reason, the feminazi side of vampire society is playing around with odd forms of illusion magic for some unknown, but undoubtedly nefarious purpose.
I thought back on the 'Artifact' lent to the vampire named Edward that served as the central piece of his research and the improvised catalyst in the incomplete ritual that fused thirty-six humans and their illusion based Sacred Gears into a living tower of tangled flesh with unstable but freakishly powerful illusion powers.
… How in the fuck did a Norse Runestone do all of that!? And why there is a freaking Norse Runestone in the vampire's hand in the first place!?
This shit is getting complicated.
The small England countryside road was too bumpy for Irina's taste, certainly so when they made the car jump and forced the seat to bump against her aching behind.
"Moou, you're so cruel, otou-san!" She finally expressed her frustrations out loud, breaking the twenty minutes of silent pouty treatment.
"Me?" Shidou Touji responded, his eyes never leaving the road ahead. "Whatever did I do, daughter of mine?" He spoke innocently. English was the language that he used. He did that as a silent encouragement; Irina has come a long way since they've come to the British islands, but she could still use some practice.
"You didn't stop the old hag!" She said, switching languages.
He sent her a warning look. "That's mother superior you're talking about!"
"She whooped my butt with a paddle!"
Touji couldn't help it; he let out a little snort.
"AHH! You think it's funny! You're the worst, daddy!"
"Hey now, I don't make the rules." He glanced down to his daughter in the passenger seat, her charmingly ruffled uniform contrasting nicely with her chestnut hair, which now grew past her shoulder. He smiled at that, glad that his little girl was turning more feminine.
"Yeah, but aren't you like, mother superior's boss?" Irina pouted, remembering once again that her father stood aside while she received her totally unfair punishment.
"The order doesn't work like that. And besides, wasn't it you who picked a fight with those girls in the first place?"
"But they were bullying Sebastian again! Just because he's not very good at sword lesson those meanies…"
"I know that, and that's why you are not grounded. I'm proud of you for standing up for your friend." Touji smiled, remembering the boy who stopped them on their way out and apologized profusely to his daughter. Yes, he understood exactly what had happened.
"Eh!?" Irina gasped. "T-T-Then why did you let them spank me!?"
The holy sword wielder exhaled a long fatherly breath, putting a soft smile on his face, "Oh little one, you might have shown valor and integrity by standing up for the one who couldn't. But you still did so by breaking the academy's rules." One of his hands let go of the steering wheel to gently grip the crucifix hanging on his neck. "It is our duty to uphold the rules at all cost, even when it seems impossible and impractical, or another way seems to be better. We must use our heart to utilize them for the best of all people..."
"Uhhh," Irina frowned cutely; doing things cutely came naturally for her, not that she realized that yet. "I still think you did it cuz it was funny."
Touji let out a chuckle and shook his head. "You'll understand when you're older. Now." His smile became wider. "I got a surprise for you. Someone very special came to visit, and I'm hoping you'll get along."
Irina immediately perked up. Her thoughts flashed back to her time in Japan, to the one she misses the most…
She does like her life in England. Sure, it was hard at first, learning a new language, integrating into a new culture, trying to learn her way across an unfamiliar new village much more compact than the growing metropolis that was Kuoh, and it had become even harder when she enrolled in the Cross Academy, renowned catholic academy to the normals, exorcist training camp for the not-so-much. In the end, she did manage to find a place here, to make new and precious friends to make new memories with.
But there is one thing missing, one thing she left back in Japan: the friend that makes her entire afternoon warmer when they play together, that lingers in her thoughts when she's feeling lonely or bored, that makes everything more fun and memorable just by being there. Her best friend.
Ise. She let her mind wander to their time together, a smile unconsciously spreading on her face. It got to be Ise, right? Who else would her daddy call 'special'.
With her smile growing wider and eager. She began to pester her daddy about their visitors. Receiving only smiles and verbal dodges as responses.
Their car made its way out of the bumpy road to one more paved, the vision at the sides would only be called picturesque; fields of soft greens and colorful flowers, gentle hamlets of fairytale-like houses, and the occasional sheep or horse rolled across the window as the car sped up. Riding its way across the England countryside in the direction of London, where the rural beauty would be replaced by urban wonders and probably… showers of rain.
However, a short couple of hours away from the city, the car turned into a straighter but no less well-maintained road. Briefly after, the occasional house or shed became more frequent, and it continued to do so until they were finally riding over the charming brick streets of Bellespring Village.
Normally, Irina would be looking around, enjoying the view of the quaint doll-like houses adorably pushed together beside the streets, or waving for the figures she recognized on the sidewalks. But she was too focused on her mysterious but hopefully not so mysterious visitor. She couldn't wait to get home, so naturally, the minute travel to her house took forever.
"Now Irina, I want you to behave-Irina!"
The girl was already out of the car and crossing the well-mannered front garden to the door by the time her father notice her absence. Her sharpening senses picked up something different about the familiar visage, but it wasn't strong enough to make her pause. However, the insides of the house were too subtly distinct for her senses not to catch it, so she stopped and blinked.
Her house was spotless. Not to say it wasn't normally clean, her mother does an excellent job every day after all, but it was never clean to that extent; literal specks of lights could be seen gleaming across the walls, she could practically see her reflection on the wooden furniture, and the curtains, something Irina was fairly certain was a family heirloom older than she was, looked new and pristine like they were bought yesterday.
The immaculate state of the living room melted away from her list of priorities when she saw the figure standing by the corner, however.
"M-MAID!" Irina shouted, pointing a finger.
Indeed, the figure was most definitely a maid; no one in their right mind would deny it. The maid in question slowly straightened her back, turning from the display she was meticulously cleaning and making her cleaning utensils disappear into the void like any proper maid would. Irina soon got the full view of the impressive Scandinavian beauty clad in an iconic maid outfit that managed to remain modest while subtly accentuating her curves. A vision otaku degenerates of her home country would sacrifice innocents to unholy rituals to see.
The maid in question, seeing the growing number of stars on the young girl's eyes, could only do one thing.
"Welcome home, young lady." She greeted dutifully with a respectful bow. Her bright blue eyes were shining with a cool light of pure professionalism, with just a hint of amusement visible only for those who know her best.
"Irina? Why are you shouting?"
From the corridor that led to the kitchen, Irina's mother appeared. The girl was about to talk the woman's ears off about the actual maid in their living room, but her voice trails off before she could speak the first syllable.
You see; Isabella Shidou, nee Evans, was a stunning woman. Irina had heard stories from her father about modeling agencies and rival suitors chasing after her all the time back on they were younger, and she could definitely see that; Her mother stood at 1.68 meters, had a body that her father had described as 'firm' but also 'yummy' when he thought she wasn't listening, and a pretty face with noble features that were only enhanced by a small button nose, gentle green eyes with a tiny mole under the right one, and brilliant golden hair. Everything about her drew lingering gazes, and she always stood up when compared to the mothers or even older sisters of her friends.
But the woman that had walked into the living room behind her, effortlessly made her fade to the background.
"Wooah!" Irina gasped, taking in the captivating features of strange woman; you didn't see a combination of snow-white hair and red eyes every day, and she couldn't believe how good she looked, seriously this woman was prettier than those on movies, she was prettier than the ones on fashion magazines, Irina couldn't believe how pretty she was, hell, she couldn't even believe someone could be this pretty.
And her boobs are gigantic holy crap!
The girl simply didn't know if she should marvel at the woman's beauty or the way her boobs bounced with each step she took. Currently, the boobs were winning, mostly because she was wondering how Ise would react to them. He had been acting pretty strangely about the subject around the time she was about to move.
So lost in thoughts was the girl that she didn't even notice the next few lines of inquiry thrown on her way by her mother, which was looking a bit embarrassed by how blatantly clear the targets of her daughter's undivided attentions were.
The white-haired woman giggled the giggle of someone who was used to it and knelt right before the girl.
"Hello there." The woman greeted gently, bringing the girl's attention back.
"Ah." Irina tried to step back only to bump on the sturdy legs of her father, who has entered the house after her.
"Irina. This is Ms. Dandelion. She is an important associate of mine; she and her family will be staying here for a few days. You will treat her with the proper respect." Shidou Touji said in a firm voice he used to get his daughter to understand the importance of the statement. Incidentally, he was also a man of God and a paragon of virtue, so he definitely didn't sneak a few glances at Ms. Dandelion's mighty cleavage, especially not in front of his wife. Clearly, the stink eyes his beloved wife was sending him must be a mistake.
Irina blinked, processing her father's words and the way he had said it. One of his associates… Oh, She must be from his church job! No wonder she looks so angelic.
Then she remembered to introduce herself.
"A-Ah- Hello! My name is Shidou Irina. It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am." She said, bowing deeply.
Wait… she spoke in Japanese! And even gave a Japanese greeting bow!
Her cheeks heated with embarrassment.
Despite her blunder, however, the woman giggled melodically.
"Hi there Irina-chan, I'm Araneya Dandelion, the pleasure is all mine." The woman responded in flawless Japanese, giving a polite bow of her own.
Safe! Irina can already say she's going to like this lady.
"Now." Touji said, "Ms. Dandelion's son is upstairs, he's around your age, why do you go there and introduce yourself? I think you'll get along greatly." He smiled hopefully at the thought.
"Okay." She says automatically. This has happened before; usually, when a visitor brings children along, she is tasked with their entertainment and they are exiled to a different part of the house so the adults could talk. Irina doesn't mind too much as she likes meeting new people and make friends. Provided that they're not jerks, of course.
So she did what she was told, quickly making her way upstairs while admiring how shiny and clean everything looked. She didn't even know cleanliness like that was possible.
She was about to open the guest room door when the implication finally dawned on her.
… It wasn't Ise.
That made her chest tighten a little. She chewed on her lips for a second as a moody wave of loneliness crashed over her head. But soon, she was pulling a deep breath and putting a smile up. These visitors are not bad at all! They even brought a cool maid with them! Sure it would be better if it was her best friend and his family but who knows, maybe she will be good friends with Ms. Dandelion's son.
So she knocked on the door, not even waiting for a response before opening.
"HELLOoooo…" Her enthusiastic greeting, tried and tested in many first impressions in the past, wheezed and failed as she took in the room.
Her mind didn't detect the spotless state of the room, nor the small but elegant pile of baggage on the corner. Her mind was currently incapable of noticing anything else besides him.
He was like… an art piece; something made out of the finest marble, carefully and meticulously carved into a form and shape designed to enchant the viewer and grab hold of their attention. A living pondering about the answer to "what is beauty?" and "what is pretty?" and "what is attractive?" He had details and a defined appearance, but it was hard to conjure something to describe him, like the words itself were struggling against each other for the privilege to fit his image.
His mother could serve as a foundation for it, Irina's young mind unconsciously realized; he had much of her in him, and that anchors his appearance to the earthly plane. His hair was snow-white, like hers, if hers had an ever-present ethereal aspect that seems to blend with the world. His features were similar; hers were the base that his were carved from, a diamond made from his mother's charcoal. His body was hidden under loose, lazy clothes, a simple black slack of thin material, a large, fluffy gray sweater that looked ungodly comfortable, and a largish bovine amulet that hang from a loose cord around his neck. All of that looked… right on him somehow. Parts of a perfect puzzle that fits neatly.
Irina never saw a boy so… no, she never so anyone so… p-pretty.
Even shadows of the room seem to shimmer, like the world itself has cast a spotlight on him and her, like there were only the two of them in the universe and nothing else.
Irina had to catch herself as her legs grew weaker, she suddenly noticed how her clothes were now clinging on her skin and wondered who had raised the heater to that extent. And her heart; it was racing, racing like never before-
Red. She could see it now. Like crimson moons or bright scarlet gems, two twin pools illuminated by a warm carmine light.
The boy had opened his eyes.
"Eep!" She flinched back, making a sound like a small animal. It was not her proudest moment.
The noise drew the boy's attention. It was almost… oppressive. Having those deep pools of reds over her, watching her every move, judging her… She didn't think…
The boy smiled, and a weight dropped from her shoulders.
W-W-What's wrong with me today!? Irina thought frenetically. I-It was just a boy, a-a new potential friend! She'd met boys in the past, even some she would now call pretty, so why does-OH GOD HE'S COMING CLOSER.
The boy moved so fluidly, with so much ease that it takes a few seconds to notice he had moved at all. Irina took a step back, trying to calm her heart and breaths and put her jumbled thoughts in order.
He was taller, taller than her, older, an older boy, more mature and experienced. Why did she like that so much!?
N-Not good s-she had to make a good impression! Y-Yeah, a good impression is everything!
She closed her eyes. It helped a little.
"H-eeLO I-I-I'm SHIDOU IRINA! N-N-Nice-Gah!"
Japanese again! And she was about to bow too! His mother might know about the language but he might not. S-She screw it up already!
She opens her eyes to apologized- And the boy was nowhere to be seen. Irina blinked and looked around, quickly seeing where he was.
"EH!? KNEELING!?" She vocalized, to the mysterious boy's great amusement.
"Greetings…" He says, his voice was like those vinyl records her grandmother has, she could listen to it for hours. "You must be the young lady of this house. This one goes by the name Elias Dandelion." And he fancily moved his hand- Which was holding hers! She followed the movements until- K-K-K-KISSING!
He introduced himself like a prince!
"Ah…huaw…Nani…Nani…?" Irina's mind was going over a hundred miles an hour and yet moving at a snail's pace. This… memorable first impression was rapidly starting to take its toll.
Elias then processed to look up at her with the most caring crimson eyes and a flowery smile.
It was a deadly final blow.
"I hope we become great friends!"
"Fue!" The poor girl gasped as she fell back, with the excess blood gathered on her head bursting from her nostrils.
"Yare Yare…" Said Elias over the unconscious girl, the amused smile never leaving his lips.
He could already feel his stay here will be an interesting one.
A/n: This is the chapter where you discover how SUBTLE I am with my references!