Familiar Evil (ZnT/Resident Evil)
Chapter 19: Descent into Chaos


With a tight frown plastered across her face, Agnès kept her musket pressed to her shoulder as she scanned the cityscape for any sign of danger. Which, to her immense displeasure, could be found everywhere. Half-eaten bodies, pools of blood, not to mention an endless number of walking corpses. Hungry and animalistic moans filled the air, along with a heavy stench that surpassed the worst battles Agnès had ever partaken in during her previous career as a mercenary. By this point, it was more than obvious that death and decay had consumed Raccoon City, corrupting what must have been a reasonably safe place into one of pure chaos and terror. A place they were trapped right in the middle of.

Glancing at the others, she could see that although the other mages and soldiers were keeping themselves reasonably calm, at least on the surface, she could tell that they were scared. Kirche von Zerbst was far more openly terrified, practically clinging to her professor as though he was a shield. They all knew this mission could go wrong. Agnès outright predicted it would to some capacity. After all, going into an unknown location with essentially no intel or recon was bound to turn out contrary to their plans. She had thought they'd have to deal with something simple and mundane like lack of resources, language barriers, local law enforcement or even criminal elements. Hel, culture clash leading to problems was all but guaranteed. But never in her wildest dreams would she have predicted an army of the dead descending on the city. Then again, how could anyone? She had faced undead abominations before, but never to this scale.

Part of her wished that they had brought an army of their own with them. At least then they'd have numbers on their side, but the rest knew that was impractical for more reasons than she could count. Agnès thought over everything, trying to figure out what they could've done better to at least try and mitigate the disaster unfolding around them, but after a moment she grimly shook her head and dismissed the futile endeavor. Trying to plan a mission in hindsight never did anyone any favors. Simply put, they had the misfortune of planning an infiltration when they should've been planning for an active warzone. Now they were in the position where they had to work with what they got and try their best to adapt.

If they didn't, they were dead.

Her thoughts were broken by the slicing of metal through flesh, and she saw Julio Chesaré behead another zombie with Derflinger. His act was followed by a few gunshots into adjacent undead along with simple yet precise magic spells. Agnès herself sniped a dog as it rushed towards one of the mages, and soon they found themselves in a relatively calm space. Glancing around, Agnès saw that they were next to a crudely barricaded, single-story building that had red walls and a sloped red roof, with a sign that had a large, yellow "M" with the word "McDonald's" right next to it. It looked to be a café of some kind.

"In there," Agnès ordered. "We can rest up and collect our bearings."

The commoner soldiers nodded immediately as Eugene and Suero took point, entering the building after breaking open a door. The others waited outside, waiting for the all clear signal. Only when they heard the two men's voices beckoning them inside did the rest follow suit, revealing that the café's main chamber was clear. Tables and chairs had been pinned up against glass windows, but there were no bodies to be found.

"Where do you think everyone went?" Julio quietly asked while the other musketeers cleared the smaller rooms and closets.

Agnès shrugged then suggested, "Judging by the lack of bodies and blood, my best guess is that they left."

"Why would they leave a defensible position?" Baron Valluy incredulously asked.

Before Agnès could respond, Colbert replied, "Tabitha said she saw this nation's military evacuating people, or at least that's what it looked like. They might've thought going to them would be safer than letting the zombies overrun them."

Baron Valluy grunted dismissively as he glanced through a gap in the barricade that let him see past the shattered glass windows, where he saw hordes of undead roaming the street and vacant lot. Most were just wandering aimlessly, but a few were devouring something on the opposite sidewalk that he couldn't quite see, but at the same time didn't need to.

"They might've been better off waiting," he said after a moment, then sat down on one of the few remaining seats that weren't being used in the barricade.

Agnès couldn't help but agree with the Baron's assessment. They were trained soldiers equipped with magic, weapons, and armor. The people who made this barricade were most likely civilians with no formal training. Hunkering down and waiting for soldiers to come rescue them would've been the best course of action in such a scenario. Then again, who knows how long they waited in this place. They might've legitimately not had a choice in the matter.

"Agnès, a word," the musketeer heard Duchess Vallière call out to her, cutting into her thoughts.

Walking over to Karin, Agnès responded, "Yes, Duchess?"

Duchess Karin de la Vallière was looking through a larger gap in the barricade, her arms crossed and her face grim. Without looking in Agnès' direction, she said, "I couldn't help but notice that the other commoners seem to be deferring to you."

Agnès shrugged and replied, "I've served alongside my musketeers for years. They trust and respect me, and I imagine the others are simply following their lead."

"Hmm," Karin grunted in acknowledgement, then continued, "You seem far more skilled than just a simple bodyguard."

"I was a mercenary for many years, and served in countless noble campaigns all across Halkegenia. After a while, you begin to pick up a few things, and eventually even the Princess' attention. After doing a few missions for the royal family, they hired me full time as her bodyguard."

"I see," Karin acknowledged. "I must admit, I'm not the biggest fan of mercenaries. The idea of a soldier fighting purely for themselves and not their country is…antithetical to me."

"Agreed, but I needed to put food in my belly and a roof over my head."

"Understandable. I meant no disrespect. If anything, I'm pleased the Princess chose such a qualified individual as her representative."

"Thank you, Duchess," Agnès flatly said, not entirely meaning it. She recognized what Karin was doing, and was simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"I noticed you understood Albionese," Karin continued, watching as a zombie mindlessly slammed its head repeatedly against a metal pole just outside the café. "How many languages do you speak?"

"I understand all major languages on Halkegenia," Agnès confirmed. "But my Hespérian and Muscovian is a little rusty."

"So many. Why?"

"I'm Princess Henrietta's bodyguard. I need to know what anyone in the room is saying at any given time," Agnès said as she watched out over the street. "You'd be surprised at how many people think they can get away with talking behind the Princess' back right in front of her simply by speaking in a different language."

She couldn't help but smirk and add, "It's always funny when I call them out on it."

Only now did Karin de la Vallière turn to look at her, then said in perfect Tristainian, "I get the sense you're not a fan of nobility."

Agnès didn't let the change in the spoken language openly affect her, and she responded, "You speak the commoner's tongue?"

"Like you, I need to know what anyone in the room is saying, and it helps to speak with the people in my lands in their own language. There may be a natural order of things, but keeping the magical and mundane world completely separate from one another is foolish," Karin admitted as she turned back towards the outside world beyond the barricade. "Those in the Vallière lands serve and follow the Vallière family. The least I can do, in turn, is understand how they speak. A lesson I gave to all my children."

"If you're going to tell me not to be wary of Alphonse, don't bother," Agnès declared after a moment, pointedly glancing at Alphonse as he, once again, coughed into his closed fist, this one sounding rougher. Almost as though his throat was ripping under the force.

"I suspected doing so would be fruitless," Karin declared. "I only wished to say that, if this party is to survive this…nightmare, and rescue my daughter, unit cohesion is more important than ever."

Agnès nodded as she began to understand where Karin was going with this, and she replied, "I couldn't agree more."

Karin nodded and said, "Our plan to infiltrate this city went up in flames before we even arrived, and the stress that is causing is threatening to break the party apart along preexisting class divisions. If we are to survive, these conflicts need to be mitigated. Which is why I'm coming to you with an offer."

"And that is?"

"You know and are closer to the commoners than I am. I simply wish to leverage that. To work with you to make use of your and their skills to the best of our ability."

"You want me to be your representative."

"No, I want you to be my partner among them," Karin clarified. "Ordering you and them around with no consideration will only build resentment. I cannot allow that to happen, and I choose to rectify that diplomatically. What say you?"

Agnès locked eyes with Karin de la Vallière. Neither of the women so much as blinked in this game of chicken they were playing. In the back of her mind, Agnès knew that, should she refuse Karin's offer, her next one might not be so welcoming. Particularly since Agnès practically threatened the life of another mage in earshot, even if it was purely due to caution. Part of her resented that. Even when another noble was being considerate, they were still dangling their inherited position right in front of her.

Still, after a moment to consider, Agnès nodded then replied, "Alright. But understand this, Duchess. I may be working with you right now, but I am not loyal to you. I am loyal only to Princess Henrietta, and nothing you say or do will ever change that."

Karin de la Vallière stared at Agnès for a few moments, then nodded in agreement. Turning around, she then announced, "We leave in five minutes. Gather what you can then move out."

"Laurette, did you find anything?" Agnès asked at the same time while the rest of the party rummaged about the McDonald's, but her fellow musketeer shook her head.

"No. There used to be food in that ice box, but whoever was here before went through all of it," Laurette confirmed.

Agnès frowned slightly, particularly as they heard the flapping of Sylphid's wings overhead. As the zombies outside began to be pelted by large icicles, Agnès said, "We need to find more food, and fast. That dragon alone is going to go through all our stores if we're not too careful."

"I've been meaning to talk about that," Laurette admitted. "I'm noticing that there are a lot of spices around. Judging by how many we've seen in the other buildings we've gone into, I suspect these people use spices commonly in their cooking."

"So? How is that a problem? If anything, that'll mean the food will taste better," Agnès replied, but Laurette shook her head.

"No, it's not that simple," Laurette countered. "If I'm right, and the amount of spices these people use in their food is far greater than anything we use back home…we risk making ourselves sick to our stomachs even if the food is perfectly safe to eat."

"Can that really happen?" Agnès quietly asked, and Laurette nodded. Biting back a curse, she then added, "Well then, we have another problem. We can't rely purely on the food we brought with us, especially with that dragon around. If we can't eat the food here without making us sick, what do we do?"

"No, no, we can eat it," Laurette clarified while shaking her head. "Louise is proof enough of that. But she was here for a month, which gave her stomach more than enough time to adjust. If she's still alive, she could probably eat anything still edible in this city with no issue. For us, though, we're going to have to be careful. Eat small portions so that we can gradually build up resistance. Does that make sense?"

Agnès nodded and replied, "It does. Inform the others. The last thing we need is for someone to start puking their guts out or, Gods forbid, getting the shits."

"Yeah, that would not be pleasant," Laurette confirmed, then flashed her fellow musketeer a salute before running off to do as she was told. Agnès watched her work, then locked eyes with Karin de la Vallière. She had clearly heard what the musketeer researcher had hypothesized and was already talking about it with Professor Colbert. Judging by what he was saying, he had come to the same conclusion she did.

Agnès looked away then reloaded her musket. They would be heading out into the depths of Hel again soon, and she knew it would continue to get worse as time went on. More importantly, she saw that she was already beginning to deplete her ammunition. She still had plenty left, but at their current rate it wouldn't be long until she was out completely. Based off what had been going on so far, she did not like the idea of taking on these zombies with just a sword.

A few minutes later, the rescue party exited the McDonald's the way they came in. Tabitha and Sylphid had already cleared out the nearest zombies, leaving them relatively clear. There were still several further out, but they were so far away that they weren't an immediate danger and thus were left alone for the time being.

"Did you find anything?" Professor Colbert asked, and Tabitha nodded.

"We found something on the other side of that apartment complex," Tabitha revealed while frowning and tightening her grip on Sylphid's neck. "It looked like a few squads of city guards were overrun by zombies. There might be supplies we can take, but nothing else."

"Damn it," Colbert cursed, averting his gaze and closing his eyes at the loss of life. He then shook his head and remarked, "Come on, let's go see what we can find."

"Why? What could guards have that we could possibly need?" Bernadette asked.

Julio quickly responded, "Louise's journal mentioned that the weapons of this world were…vastly better than anything we had back in Halkegenia. She didn't go into specifics, but they're probably worth looking at."

Part of Agnès felt that the interest in Julio's eyes said that he knew more than what he was letting on, but nonetheless shrugged in acceptance. She was going to suggest the same thing anyway. Shouldering her musket once again, Agnès took point alongside Eugene and Suero as they went through a dark and cramped alleyway. There were a few zombies that Tabitha hadn't been able to freeze into a solid block of ice for whatever reason still wandering about, but they were put down in short order.

"Alphonse, stop," Gabrielle de Hauet gently ordered her twin brother after yet another coughing fit. A tendril of water was conjured in front of her sword wand, and it gently snaked through the air into the side of his slightly inflamed yet pale neck.

"Aah, thank you," Alphonse said as he sighed in relief, yet couldn't help but scratch at the base of his neck where he was bitten.

"You need to stop messing with it, otherwise it won't heal properly," Gabrielle chastised him.

"I know, I know. It's just…it itches," Alphonse remarked, then continued moving.

Even through Agnès wasn't looking at the wounded water mage, she was keeping part of her attention focused on him regardless. His worsening condition had done little to alleviate her concerns, and she was half ready to confront the issue right then and there. But she would wait until she was absolutely certain. She might not like the nobility, but she wasn't about to argue for a man's death purely over suspicion. Only if he actually posed a clear and present danger would she make the call, and until then she prayed she was simply being paranoid.

Soon they arrived at the site Tabitha had seen from above, and she immediately grimaced. It was absolute carnage, with dozens of men and women wearing identical blue uniforms laying in the street, their bodies torn apart and partially eaten. A few zombies were roaming around or feasting upon their carcasses, but the mages put them down before the zombies could do anything to them.

"Grab what you can, and quickly," Agnès ordered as she and the other soldiers moved in. Noticing that the mages were staying behind, Agnès rolled her eyes. Of course the mages would scoff at using anything other than their magic. Julio was also staying behind for the moment, although his expression looked far more conflicted.

Focusing her attention on the ground beneath her feet, Agnès couldn't help but notice that hundreds of empty brass cylinders littered the ground. Alongside them were larger red containers that appeared to be made of a smooth yet firm material that she had seen elsewhere. If she remembered correctly, Louise apparently called the material 'plastic' in her journal. Figuring that wasn't important, she moved the brass and plastic refuse around with her feet, then noticed something held in a deceased guard's hand. It appeared to be a handgun.

Kneeling over him, Agnès carefully removed the firearm from his hand and inspected it. Most of the body was made of blued steel, and the grip was made of wood. There was a hammer on the back of the chamber, which led directly into the barrel. On the top of the barrel were a pair of iron sights, and the front-bottom half of the barrel had some kind of rail attached to it. The side of the barrel had the words "Browning Hi-Power" engraved into it, with "9x19mm Parabellum" right underneath.

"Hmm, that must be the manufacturer and the ammunition it takes," Agnès muttered to herself, then held the Hi-Power forward with one hand. Its iron sights made aiming the weapon fairly easy, and she took aim towards a bright red stop sign.

After making sure no one was in her line of fire, she pulled the trigger to give it a test fire, causing the hammer to slam forward. The gun was louder than what she was expecting, sharper and more pronounced than the dull thuds of the weapons she was used to, yet the recoil was surprisingly manageable despite the power. To her bewilderment, the barrel slid back with the recoil, exposing a space just over the grip from which a smoking brass cylinder was ejected into the air. A split-second later, the barrel slid back into position, and once more the gun went inert.

"Founder, that was loud. Warn us next time," Suero harshly called out as he reached into a blue and white car with flashing red-and-blue lights which had the symbol of a shield emblazoned on its side door.

"Sorry about that," Agnès said, then started to inspect the weapon more closely. Narrowing her eyes, she asked herself, "How do you reload this thing? There's no arming rod…."

Looking around at the others, she noticed that they had also claimed identical handguns from their former owners. Suero had also pulled out a long rifle-like gun with a wooden grip on the bottom of the barrel. Walking around to quickly inspect them all, she noticed that none of the weapons had arming rods.

"What is that?" Eugene asked as he held his own Hi-Power in his hand, careful to keep the barrel pointed away from anyone still living.

"No idea, but it feels heavy and powerful," Suero remarked as he took aim at the same stop sign Agnès fired at earlier, allowing her to see that the words "Mossberg 500 – 12 ga" was engraved onto the barrel. He pulled the trigger, and his eyes went wide as the unexpectedly heavy recoil sent him back slightly. Suero quickly took the weapon from his shoulder and began to rub it with his free hand while muttering, "Gods, my shoulder!"

Agnès nodded in sympathy as she inspected the damage left by his weapon on the makeshift target. Whereas her handgun simply left a single hole in the sheet metal, Suero's weapon left dozens over a wide spread. This weapon clearly wasn't a blunderbuss, but it was definitely similar. At the same time, she noticed that no spent tube was ejected by his weapon as hers did, something that Suero noticed as well.

He began to fumble around with his weapon, then accidentally pulled back on the wooden handle. A loud racking noise was heard as a slide on the right side of the weapon opened, causing the empty plastic container to be ejected outward. Both Suero and Agnès focused on it, and to Agnès' surprise, saw that something had already picked up an unopened red capsule, its angle lined up with the gun barrel.

"What the…?" Suero muttered to himself. Realizing that he still had the grip pulled back, he pushed it forward, causing the slide to push forward as well. He and Agnès heard something settle in the barrel, causing Suero to narrow his eyes suspiciously. Pumping the weapon again, the slide opened and ejected the plastic container, only this one wasn't empty and smoking.

A creeping realization began to settle over Agnès' mind, and she looked at the weapon in her hands. Pursing her lips, she tightly gripped the top of the barrel and started to pull it back. It took some exertion, having never done this before, but soon the barrel was pulled back. Like Suero's long-gun, a brass tube with what must've been a cone-shaped bullet sitting in it was ejected from the weapon, allowing Agnès to look inside the exposed chamber. There she saw another pistol round ready and waiting to be inserted into the chamber, and her eyes widened.

She accidentally pressed a button on the side, causing a small box held inside the handgun's grip to pop out and fall to the ground by her feet. Her head shot down towards it, where she saw that the metal box was holding the ammunition at the very top. She gently picked it up and inspected the box in detail, noticing that it was surprisingly heavy despite its size. More importantly, she saw that there were several holes along the side, exposing more bullets contained within.

Feeling her heartbeat quicken inside her chest, Agnès gently inserted the box into the empty space in the handgrip. Noticing another button on the side of the weapon, she pressed it, which caused the barrel to slide back into the previous position. Staring fixedly at the handgun, she could feel everyone focusing on her, but she ignored them as she aimed the Hi-Power back at the stop sign.

As she hovered her finger over the trigger, she didn't know if what she was about to do would even work or if it was possible. But her instincts were screaming at her to go forward, knowing that whatever answer she got would be the difference between life and death. Taking a deep breath, she pulled back on the trigger, and to her amazement the weapon fired once again.

If people hadn't been paying attention to her before, they were now as Agnès fired for a second time. Then a third, and a fourth and fifth. Only after six bullets did the barrel fully lock back, revealing that it was now empty and completely spent. Breathing heavily, Agnès shot towards the man whose body she looted the Hi-Power from, and quickly found another pair of boxes, each one filled to the brim with bullets. She clumsily removed the empty box from her weapon and inserted the next, and once the barrel was back in position she began to fire again. This time she fired thirteen times without needing to reload, and although it took her a few moments to get the movement down, she managed to reload in practically no time at all.

As she gazed upon the weapon in her hand, part of Agnès wanted to laugh and cry. Even as she fought back that urge, she still smiled gleefully. Then, as she looked around towards everyone else, her face snapped back into a professional veneer and she ordered, "Grab every gun you can."


"Derflinger, are you certain this is the right way?" Julio asked as he held the ancient sword in front of him as they walked through the ruined street.

As they did, he carefully observed his surroundings. So far, the number of zombies were minimal, but their presence was still felt. Broken glass littered the pavement alongside crashed cars and uprooted poles, along with more signs of carnage than the Romalian priest cared to count. The large apartment complexes and residential areas that they had gone through before had given way to a more industrial setting, along with some of the streets having these strange steel rails embedded into them. He had absolutely no idea what the tracks were for, but after finding a massive metal car lined up on them, Professor Colbert hypothesized that the tracks were meant to facilitate transport. If that was actually the case, it was quite ingenious.

"Yeah, I'm getting a faint magical signature in this direction," Derflinger confirmed, jiggling a portion of his handguard in what amounted to a nod. "Doesn't feel like Louise was here for long, but she was definitely here enough for me to feel it."

Julio nodded at that answer, figuring it was the best one they'd get for a while. In the meantime, he continued moving, everyone else scattered around them with their weapons trained outward. The party had been trekking westward for the past few hours. The sun was now shining well overhead, partially blocked by clouds that continued to roll in. Judging by their thickness, Julio assumed it would be raining within the next day or two, which was just what they needed right about now. Part of him hoped and prayed that they would be able to find and secure Louise before then, as the last thing he wanted was to have to deal with bad weather on top of the endless hordes of undead that plagued this city, but the rest dismissed that entirely. By now it was quite obvious that their luck was not that good.

As they passed by another pair of corpses, these belonging to a mother and her infant child, Julio couldn't help but let out a regretful sigh. He hadn't forgotten the fact that these people were Varyag, their most ancient and true enemy. Half the reason why he was here in the first place was to gather information for their upcoming crusade against them. Julio understood that, when that time came and should Pope Vittorio's plan work as intended, many of them would regrettably die. But he would've never wished this upon them. To be eaten alive by people turned into undead monsters, some of whom were your friends or loved ones, was needlessly cruel and evil.

But he couldn't let himself dwell on such things. For everyone's sake, he had to press forward on his mission. To do otherwise would bring only more ruin.

His thoughts were broken when they heard a collective moan coming from one of the large metal cars on the tracks. Through a partially open sliding metal door, Julio and the others saw nearly a dozen zombies standing around and feasting on something. When they noticed the living among them, the undead turned fully in their direction and shambled outward, falling out of the car face-first and uncaring of any injuries they suffered. Most were able to get back up, but those who were more mutilated than others crudely dragged themselves across the ground in a desperate, animalistic attempt to feast on more prey.

The mages prepared to cast a spell that would take them out, but before they could the commoners, wielding their new firearms, took action first. A series of gunshots rang out, each gun firing multiple times into the walking dead. Suero's Mossberg in particular blew off the heads of those he managed to hit. In a matter of seconds, the zombies were put down, leaving the area clear once again.

"Ha-ha! I love these things!" Eugene de Allemand declared, only to wince as he rubbed his right wrist with his left hand. "They're terrible on my wrist, though."

"Same here," Marion de Calvet added as she rubbed the inside of her ears with a finger. "And they're so damn loud, too. Every time I fire this thing, my ears start to ring."

By this point, the commoners all had Varyag weapons of their own. Only Suero didn't have a handgun, but with his long-gun that didn't matter so much. They had also been taking extra care to scour the nearby buildings for more weapons and ammunition, which for obvious reasons were in scare supply. So far they hadn't found much, just a few boxes here and there. Some of which didn't even fit the weapons they were using. But they kept them regardless in the hopes that they would find more weapons later on.

Julio couldn't help but wince as he watched the commoners sweep up any stragglers, each gunshot making him grimace. On the one hand, their effectiveness could not be ignored. The accuracy and firepower of these native weapons far surpassed anything they had aside from magic to the point where the commoners were standing on much more even footing with the mages in the party in terms of combat effectiveness. But that was where the worries began, something that he could tell was shared with the rest of the nobility judging by the concerned and almost fearful looks on their faces.

For the past six thousand years, Halkegenian society had been governed by one absolute principle: those with magic had the right to rule. Magic itself was deemed a gift by the Gods, proof of their sovereignty over those without it. To be sure, not everyone in the lower classes agreed with this arrangement, and there had been countless commoner rebellions who attempted to overthrow the magical nobility. But without magic, those efforts were quickly crushed time and time again. Only with significant numbers could an army of commoners stand up to mages. That was how it had always been.

But then came the advent of gunpowder from the Orient, and from it the firearm. Their adoption had been slow, but the advantages offered by such weapons were readily apparent. They were cheap to make and easy to train with. It took months and years to properly train soldiers how to use a bow, sword, or pike, not to mention build up the physical strength to use such weapons effectively, but practically anyone could pick up a gun, point it at something they wanted dead, and pull the trigger. Theoretically, you could field an entire army with guns in a fraction of the time compared to more traditional forces. Most importantly of all, they significantly closed the gap between a mage and a commoner soldier. Even a square-class mage knight with years upon years of training and honed magical talent could be felled by a lucky shot from a musket.

Which was why, despite their numerous military advantages, their use in warfare was relatively constrained. The nobility feared that the delicate balance of power that had benefited them for six millennia would be threatened by such weapons, even if they publicly claimed otherwise. It was a point of view that the Church believed as well. Upsetting the balance of power only led to conflict and strife, which was the last thing that the Church wanted.

But the weapons from the Holy Land were a different matter entirely. The advantages of a muzzle-loading musket could be easily dismissed by the ignorant when compared to magic or a bow. After all, muskets weren't very effective in the rain and a skilled archer or crossbowman could fire several arrows or bolts by the time a musketeer reloaded. But a handgun or blunderbuss that could fire multiple times before needing to reload, and only needed seconds to do so? Not even the most pompous and arrogant noble could dismiss that.

Those advantages were something he had been well aware of before this expedition. The Church had recovered hundreds of these firearms from the Sahara over the past few decades. Most weren't in working order at all, the harsh desert sand and scorching heat ruining most before they could be found and brought back to Romalia for storage. Those that did survive were often so alien to the archivists that they didn't even bother trying to figure out how they worked, deciding that they were simply the property of the Gandálfr, and stored them for their upcoming return. Every so often, though, if only to satiate his own curiosity, Julio would go down and inspect the weapons more closely, and he liked to think he got at least the basics of how they worked down.

It was this awareness that made him amenable to the idea of the party grabbing guns of their own to use against the forces opposing them in Raccoon City. Likely the other mages were in the same position. But Julio had a strong suspicion that Agnès didn't intend to let go of these weapons once their mission was complete. After all, Tristain was about to be invaded by an overturned ally who was vastly stronger than them, and these weapons could provide just the edge they needed to survive. The threat of an existential invasion was all the motivation one needed, especially for one who didn't much care for nobility to begin with. Even if it meant throwing Halkegenia into a new era of violence and chaos, the risk was worth it.

Julio closed his eyes and shook his head. Now wasn't the time to worry about what would happen in Halkegenia when they returned, particularly since that was still an open question at this point. For now, he would bite his tongue and even partake in scouring the city for more weapons and ammunition. As a flamen of the Brimiric faith, he would not let the sin of pride cloud his judgement and potentially lead to his death or, more importantly, the deaths of his fellow party members. To do so was inexcusable.

His thoughts were broken when he heard a low growl coming from a nearby dumpster, from which a zombie dog crawled out of the open top. Before it could get too far, however, Julio rushed ahead and sliced its head clean off its neck with Derflinger's blade, killing it instantly. Around him he heard a short rapport of growls followed by gunshots as the rest of the pack emerged and were put down, and soon they were back in relative safety once again.

"So, since we just killed another dog, I can't help but ask you something, kid," Derflinger quietly spoke up as the party collected their bearings and the commoners reloaded their weapons if able, with Suero sliding fresh plastic containers into the bottom tube of his long-gun with audible clinks.

"Go right ahead," Julio replied, his eyes narrowed as he looked back and forth for any sign of imminent danger.

"How long have you been the Vindálfr?" Derflinger asked. It was a fair question in Julio's mind and one he was expecting, particularly once he realized that Derflinger was traditionally the weapon of the Gandálfr, not his own familiar lineage. It was understandable the sword's questions would fall along those lines.

"I was branded as the Vindálfr upon His Holiness' ascension to the papacy two years ago," Julio admitted, leading the way towards wherever Louise wound up in this gods-forsaken place.

"Right, right. You seemed like you were in that awkward place of experience and inexperience," Derflinger chuckled. "Take a right up here, by the way."

"Thank you," Julio responded as he followed the sword's directions, the other members of the rescue party following suit.

"Have to admit, I've never been wielded by a Vindálfr before," Derflinger continued. "It's a novel experience. That isn't to say I haven't witnessed one of you in action before. Memories are…hazy, but they're there."

Julio nodded in understanding. He got the sense that Derflinger's memory was spotty when they first met. Given how he was over six-thousand years old, with most of that spent in extended hibernation, not having a perfect memory was all anyone could realistically expect. Part of Julio wondered if there was, perhaps, another reason as to why he didn't remember everything, particularly the finer details of the Founder's life and death, but other than the Founder's favorite dirty jokes he didn't remember anything of importance. And even now, Julio remained determined to keep those aspects of the Founder hidden from public knowledge. He could imagine the scandal even now.

"Which, of course, begs the question," Derflinger began. "You can take control of any animal with just a touch, right? You've at least mastered your powers to that extent."

"Yes, I can. So long as they're not human or a first-born race," Julio admitted, glancing up as Sylphid flew overhead with Tabitha on her back.

Part of him wondered if he could use his familiar runes to get Sylphid to do whatever he wanted. He had never tried taking over a rhyme dragon before, particularly since they were thought to be extinct, but he figured at most he could probably do so for a few seconds before she would regain control. The smarter a creature was, the most effort he would have to exert. Not to mention Sylphid, despite her young age and obvious fear of their surroundings, had been extremely amenable, so there was no need to test that out. The risks in attempting to do so far outweighed the rewards.

"So why haven't you tried taking over one of those dogs?" Derflinger asked, and Julio nodded. He figured this was where this line of questioning was inevitably going, and truth be told it was something he had asked himself already.

After a moment, he grimly answered, "It's…possible that I could take control of those undead beasts. The power of Void is certainly strong enough to achieve many things. But, given their condition…I don't even know if there would be a mind for me to influence at all. They appear to be completely consumed by their ravenous hunger, and there's only so many directions I could point them in. Not only that and more importantly, I would have to physically touch them with my hand, which does not sound appealing to me."

"Heh, I can imagine. I know I'm just a sword, but the blood of these things just feels…wrong," Derflinger said with a shudder. A brief silence fell between the pair, then Derflinger quietly asked, "This Saito kid…you think he's my partner?"

"You mean the Gandálfr?" Julio clarified, and Derflinger gave him an approximation of a nod. Julio pursed his lips, then he nodded in agreement but otherwise didn't say anything. After all, there was only so much one could go off of from a few journal entries, pictures, and recordings.

Despite that, though, Julio did think of the boy as they continued to walk through the cluttered streets of Raccoon City, if only to take his mind off of the groans of the walking dead. From what they knew, the boy seemed to just be a normal teenager with a kind heart and soul. Intelligent but not overly so, physically able but untrained in actual combat. Unless this 'baseball' was actually a combat sport like Suero theorized after reading Louise's description of the game, but Julio doubted it. By all indications, Saito Hiraga was just a normal boy.

Julio wondered what he was like beyond that. What were his interests? His hopes and dreams? His fears? So much about the boy was a mystery to him, and he wanted to know more. Not just to understand the world they found themselves in, the world that his people truly hailed from, but out of a personal sense of hope as well. As far as Julio knew, he was the only Void familiar active in the world. Pope Vittorio believed that the Gallian and Albionese Void mages were around, especially once they confirmed Louise's status as Tristain's Void mage, but their identities were unknown.

But Saito, even if he wasn't officially the Gandálfr yet, was Louise's familiar. They saw her summon him, and by all accounts she initially reversed-summoned herself to the boy when she first arrived to Raccoon City. It was only due to a twist of fate that the binding was left unfinished. Part of Julio was frustrated by that, as Saito actually being the Gandálfr would've made their job a whole lot easier, but the rest understood. If nothing else, it was a testament to Louise's strength of character, something he could always appreciate. The last thing they needed was a power-hungry madman being a Void mage. That would only lead to disaster.

All of this speculation would be for nothing if Saito and Louise were actually dead, as Julio feared. While he kept his hopes up, he wasn't blind to the reality of their situation. But if they weren't, he hoped and prayed that he and Saito would be able to meet, and if they were lucky, perhaps even come to consider each other friends. Maybe even brothers in arms, if the Gods willed it. After all, the Gandálfr and Vindálfr were the Left and Right Hands of God. Their shield and sword, respectively. Part of him wondered if it was fate that led him down this path, and if it was he would see it through.

"We're here. Inside that building," Derflinger announced as the rescue party arrived at a small, isolated building along some metal tracks. A large, metal sliding door, not unlike the ones found in the auto-repair shop they took shelter in that morning, was open on the side and leading to a garage. But no vehicle was inside, just a pair of zombies aimlessly wandering about.

Karin and Wardes sliced them apart with their wind magic, ruffling the loose papers and debris inside the garage. At the same time, Suero crept up to the front door and tentatively began to open it, keeping his long-gun pressed up against his shoulder. Once he fully entered the building, he did a quick scan, then lowered his weapon.

"We're clear," Suero announced, prompting the others to enter. Overhead, Julio heard Sylphid settle on the roof of the building, then the gentle tap of Tabitha's boots as she magically lowered herself to the ground.

"Stay outside, and no eating," Tabitha ordered her familiar, only for Sylphid to audibly gag.

"No way, sis! I'd never eat those disgusting things!" Sylphid complained while shaking her head.

"Still. Just keep watch," Tabitha continued, ignoring her familiar's whines as she entered the building with her staff clutched tightly in her hands.

"Would…would she actually eat someone?" Kirche timidly asked, and Tabitha shrugged.

"She is a dragon," Tabitha pointed out, then left it at that.

Julio shrugged, happy that Sylphid was at least smart enough to understand the dangers of eating rotten flesh, but at the same time understood the actual meaning behind Tabitha's words. Her dragon required a lot of food to sustain herself, and she was getting hungry. The last thing they needed was for a dragon to decide that eating a zombie was preferable to starvation, only to turn into an undead abomination by ingesting that putrid flesh. They would need to find a store of food for her, and themselves, soon.

"Aagh!" Kirche suddenly yelped as she accidentally kicked something on the ground, followed a shrill scream which drew everyone's attention. Julio ran over with Derflinger pointed outward, only to find the still body of a middle-aged man wearing a thin, white coat.

Marion was already on him, turning the body over and inspecting the man from head to toe. Aside from a nametag on his chest which read "Kenner", there was no telling who this man was. But it was clear that he was dead, which the hunter-turned-musketeer quickly confirmed.

"He's been dead for hours," Marion declared as she ran her fingers across his cold, pale skin. Pointing to a deep stab wound in his thigh and a nearly severed wrist, followed by a bloody scalpel laying on the ground next to him, she added, "Looks like someone stabbed and sliced him with that scalpel. Wound's deep enough to have severed an artery."

"So he bled out?" Suero asked, but Marion shook her head.

"He would've, if he hadn't been shot several times in the chest," Marion added, gesturing to the seven holes in his upper torso. "Probably died in seconds."

"Who could've done this, and why?" Eugene asked, a hint of remorse in his voice.

"I don't know, but there was clearly a struggle," Marion pointed out as she waved her arms around the partially overturned and rummaged-through remains of the room, which reminded Julio heavily of a clinic. A back-alley clinic, one that had clearly seen better days.

"You said…Louise was here, right?" Kirche asked, and Julio nodded. After a moment, she quietly continued, "You don't think…she was attacked by whoever did this, do you?"

At Kirche's suggestion, the entire party fell silent. Julio's eyes shot to Karin de la Vallière's, whose face was placid yet her eyes betrayed a swirling mix of emotion. After all, what mother wanted to imagine her daughter being in the sights of whatever murderers came through here? A moment later, Alphonse and Gabrielle called out from the clinic's basement, where they found a series of chairs and hospital beds with ropes and adhesives tied to the armrests. One particular spot on the ground was stained a deep red, indicative of blood repeatedly getting spilt, along with an incinerator mounted to the wall. When Julio opened it up, he saw the roasted remains of a skeleton, only part of the skull remaining on a bed of ash.

Eugene scowled, any trace of his former somberness replaced by revulsion. Even if they didn't have the full picture, it was obvious that this had not been a mere place of healing. Something horrible had been happening here, though whether this Kenner person was a victim or a perpetrator they couldn't know for sure. The only silver lining here was that the charred skeleton was too large to have been Louise, and there was no other sign of her body around.

But unfortunately, other than what they had already found there was nothing left. Someone else had gone through the building before. Whether they were desperate survivors searching for supplies or someone else was impossible to tell. Professor Colbert did find a windowed box in the upstairs office, but with no inkling on how to get it working he quickly abandoned the effort.

"Damn it, this is a dead end," Wardes cursed in frustration before focusing his attention on Derflinger. "Where do we go now?"

"Hold on, let me try to figure that out. It takes a second," Derflinger pointed out. "The only reason why I found this place is because it was fairly close to where she was living for the past month. She could be anywhere."

"Well, look faster! The longer it takes to find Louise, the more likely it is that she's already dead!" Wardes hissed, only to take a step back and rub his hand through his hair before apologizing, "I'm sorry, it's just…she's my fiancé, and to know she's in this nightmare by herself… It's nerve-wracking."

"It's okay, Viscount. I understand completely," Karin replied, giving her future son-in-law a firm nod.

"In any case, there's also the question of supplies. We're running low," Agnès pointed out. "Without food, ammunition, and medicine, it won't matter if we find a trail or not. We'll never get there."

Karin nodded at that statement, then asked, "Find anything we can use in here?"

"No, everything useful has already been taken," Agnès declared. "If we're lucky, it was by Louise, but I can't say that for certain."

Julio once again pursed his lips, not liking that answer but realizing there was nothing to be done about it. After a moment, he released a sigh and said, "It might be wise to pause our search for Louise until we improve our present situation. Food, weapons, supplies, anything. At least it'll give us something to do until Derflinger can pick up the trail again."

The others looked and conversed among themselves quietly, punctuated briefly by another round of coughing and itching from Alphonse which sounded painful for the veteran water mage. Luckily it only lasted for a moment, particularly after his sister applied some water magic to him, but soon they returned their attention to Julio and nodded in agreement.

"I'm fine with that," Baron Valluy declared, speaking for everyone.

Julio nodded back, then turned towards Karin de la Vallière who, after a moment, started walking out of the door and ordered, "Search every building. There has to be something we can use in this damned city."


Kirche's breath trembled as she stood in front of a barred door that was held in place by a thick iron chain and lock. She had tried unlocking it with a cantrip, but much like the others they had found so far things hadn't been that simple. All she had gotten for her efforts were a few clinking sounds but nothing else. Luckily she wasn't completely out of options, so now she was literally melting through it with a small fire spell.

"Hurry up, girl," Suero ordered as he and a few others stood watch over her, their weapons outstretched and forming a protective half-circle.

With the wall to their backs and Kirche's front, it was a relatively secure position with only two avenues of approach to the side, but that was a small comfort at best. Further away, she could hear other people breaking into buildings through shattered windows or broken doors, with the entire rescue party split up into a few small groups to cover as much ground as possible. At the same time, they were also close enough to respond to others should they actually run into danger. So far they were safe, but there was no telling how long that would last.

"I know, I know," Kirche groaned as she continued to cut her way through the metal. "I don't know what kind of iron or steel these people make stuff out of, but it's a lot stronger than anything we have back home. Makes melting through it more difficult."

"Yeah, yeah. Tell us something we don't know," Marion complained, causing Kirche to roll her eyes while continuing to work.

Glancing behind her as she worked, Kirche briefly focused on the handgun in the musketeer's hands. This wasn't the first time she had seen a firearm before. The Zerbst family prided itself on incorporating the technology into their armies despite the reservations much of the Halkegenian nobility had towards their use. Reservations which never made all that much sense to the Germanian teenager. If your focus was to build up a strong army as fast as possible, why would you handicap yourself? Sure, part of her was a little scared that there were guns that could fire more than once in succession and only needed seconds to reload, but given the zombie-infested Hel they found themselves in, she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. She wouldn't even mind grabbing one of her own, if only to make sure she wouldn't run out of willpower and become completely defenseless.

"I'm through," Kirche confirmed once the molten metal finally fell away, slipping off the door with a loud clanging noise. Standing upright, she then took a deep breath and reached for the door handle, which she promptly turned to the side. Pushing the door open, she used her free hand to hold her wand outward, ready to incinerate anything she came across.

But the building inside was almost entirely shrouded in darkness, with none of the nonmagical lights that had quickly become a hallmark of this city's workings. Most of the windows were also boarded up, leaving only thin streaks of sunlight to illuminate the interior. A sinking feeling filled her gut and made her want to retreat, but instead she took another deep breath and slowly pressed forward. She was already in this deep, and she wasn't about to let fear control her.

"Illuminate," Kirche quietly chanted, and the tip of her wand glowed brightly. As the light spread across the room, she found herself finally able to see her surroundings, but she immediately wished that she hadn't. For the entire building was covered from top to bottom in the largest, thickest spider-webs she had ever seen, with dozens of cocooned bodies trapped in silk scattered among the strands. As her eyes widened, her gaze trailed upward, and her heart lunged into her throat as she saw half a dozen spiders the size of a horse glaring down at her.

"Fireball!" Kirche immediately screamed, casting an incendiary spell right into the heart of the nearest spider. It released a shrill hiss and wail as it fell to the earth like a fiery meteor, squirming slightly as its legs gave out. Luckily it expired quickly, but the rest were already heading down.

"Move!" Suero ordered as he pulled Kirche back out of the building. At the same time, he fired his Mossberg into the head of a spider, sending black ichor spraying everywhere as it exploded from the shot.

The alleyway became consumed by gunfire as Marion joined Suero in putting down the beasts, with Kirche shooting an intense stream of fire into their midst. Soon the infernal arachnids were extinguished, but unfortunately Kirche had been far too zealous in her use of magic as the fire spread to the spider-silk, then to the rest of the building.

"Shit, shit! Get back!" Marion yelled as the entire structure went up in flames. Fire exploded out of the boarded windows, and scorching heat swept across Kirche's skin. Luckily they were able to get away before any of them got hurt, but it was still a harrowing experience.

"Gods damnit, girl! What were you thinking?!" Suero yelled at Kirche once they were far enough away.

"I'm sorry!" Kirche angrily apologized as she pointed wildly towards the burning building. "I saw the giant spiders and I panicked! What was I supposed to do?!"

"Not burn down the fucking building!" Suero screamed into Kirche's face, making her wince and step back. Suero breathed heavily, then closed his eyes, released a sigh, and calmly said, "Look, I get it. But that magic of yours…it's powerful and dangerous. You can't just go around burning everything that scares you. There could've been supplies in there that we could've used, or you could've accidentally burned one of us. We got lucky this time, but next time we might not be. Do you understand?"

Kirche looked up at the Hespérian, then slowly nodded. Suero nodded back, then stood up straight, loaded his remaining plastic containers into his long-gun, then held it up to his chest before saying, "Come on, let's see if we can't find anything else."

Suero immediately began walking off, leaving Kirche behind to stew in her thoughts. As Marion passed the Germanian by, she audibly scoffed dismissively, but Kirche didn't react. Only once both had passed did she turn to follow them, not even stopping as she heard Sylphid's wings flutter by.

"What happened?" Tabitha asked from atop her familiar.

"Giant spiders. I panicked," Kirche curtly answered, refusing to elaborate further.

Luckily that was all the answer Tabitha needed, and the Gallian girl stoically nodded before replying, "Alright. Be careful."

With that, she and Sylphid flew away, undoubtedly to inform the other groups as to why a building was now on fire. Kirche only gave her a passing glance, otherwise preferring to catch up to the rest of her group. They had been searching from building to building for the past hour, and so far they hadn't found much. Just some scattered bullets and a bunch of these strange herbs kept in clay pots. Most were green, others red and blue. Kirche had wondered if they were edible, but Gabrielle de Hauet advised her not to try and find out. After all, eating a strange and unknown plant was a recipe for disaster, and they didn't have the faintest idea what those plants did. Undoubtedly the people of Raccoon City knew, otherwise why would there be so many? So Kirche had grabbed a few just in case, hoping and praying that they would have some use besides looking pretty.

But otherwise, Kirche kept her focus on the railyard they found themselves in. Or at least that's what she was calling this place, with all the metal rails on the ground. It was midday at this point, so there should've been scores of people going about their day. But there wasn't anyone other than them and the walking dead. It was as though Kirche was walking through an ancient ruin, something she had always fantasized about. She was, after all, quite an adventurous girl, much to her parents' chagrin. But this was far, far from an ancient ruin, so the death and devastation was all too transparent. Took the fun out of it.

Suero and Marion had already broken into another building by the time Kirche caught up to them, and together the pair were clearing the inside. Kirche followed right after them, and to her relief found that the building was clear. Just a few scattered and dusty boxes. There was evidence that there were people here a few days before, but judging by the half-eaten bits of food they obviously left in a hurry. Wasn't hard to imagine why.

"Hey, I found an ice-box," Marion announced as she went into a back room. "Looks like there's some food and water in here. Suero, help me grab some of this."

"Got it. Girl, stay out here and make sure nothing sneaks up on us," Suero ordered as he went to join his fellow soldier. "And try not to burn the building down this time."

"Yeah, yeah," Kirche dejectedly replied, idly waving behind her shoulder but otherwise doing as she was told. Soon the warehouse fell silent, aside from the clinking of dishes and plastic bottles as Suero and Marion looted the supplies. Seeing as how nothing was happening, Kirche debated whether she should sit on top of one of the wooden boxes or simply walk around as though she was on patrol.

Figuring that her compatriots wouldn't appreciate her just sitting around, Kirche decided walking around the inner perimeter of the building was in order. She kept her eyes and ears peeled, scanning everywhere for any sign of danger, but for the most part everything seemed secure. In fact, this was probably the most spotless building they'd looted yet. No bodies, no bloodstains. It was a remarkable change of pace.

But as Kirche was settling into this relative calm, she heard a loud noise coming from just outside a side door. She froze in place, her eyes widening and her heart thundering in her chest as fear once again crept up from her core.

"Suero…Suero!" she quietly hissed, her voice echoing through the building. "There's someone out there."

At once she heard both commoner soldiers stop what they were doing, and a moment later they rushed to her side. Suero protectively placed himself between Kirche and the door, with Marion taking up his flank. Noticing a boarded-up window, he tried to peek through one of the gaps, but he wasn't able to see anything. But they could hear someone moving outside. Whether it was a zombie or another person, it was hard to say.

Taking in a deep breath through his nose, Suero looked at the two women beside him and held up three fingers. He slowly began to count down, prompting Marion to nod in understanding. As he counted down, he gently grabbed the door knob, and once he finished he swung the door open as hard as he could.

But before the man could step outside, he and Marion were forced back as a hail of gunfire shot through the open threshold, shattering glass and sending splinters of wood flying everywhere. Kirche let out a terrified scream as she fell onto the ground and backed away, allowing a single man to step into view. It immediately became clear that he wasn't a zombie, as his skin was a healthy tan even if it was covered in dozens of black tattoos. His head was mostly bald, with a needle-thin mustache across his upper lip. He was wearing a pair of dark blue trousers along with a white sleeveless shirt, exposing his thin arms that didn't have much muscle on them. But in his hands was another long-gun, this one boxy in shape with a wooden stock that led upward into the receiver, and a wooden vertical foregrip. In the center of the gun was a large round drum, undoubtedly holding the ammunition.

"Don't you fuckin' move!" the man screamed in a vaguely Hespérian accent, or whatever amounted to that in this place. Suero immediately tried to orient himself towards the man, only for the newcomer to raise his weapon into the air and squeeze the trigger once. A hail of bullets came out in rapid succession, causing Kirche to scream once again as debris rained from the holes in the ceiling before he trained his firearm onto the Halkegenians.

"I said don't you fuckin' move, hombre!" the man ordered, rapidly shifting his aim between Kirche, Suero, and Marion. "Do that again, and I'll blow your brains out. You hear me?!"

Despite the obvious agitation in his face, Suero slowly nodded while lowering himself to the ground, keeping his hands raised and clearly empty. He then said, "Okay, okay. We hear you. Let's just remain calm and—"

"Do not tell me to calm the fuck down!" the man shouted, stepping in place as his arms shook. Kirche took a moment to study the man, and it was obvious that he was absolutely terrified.

Realizing that she needed to keep the man talking before the others undoubtedly came over to investigate, Kirche said, "I think…we got off on the wrong foot here. My name is Kirche."

"I don't give a rat's ass what your name is," the man declared as he closed the door behind him with his foot while keeping his weapon trained on the others. Breathing harshly, he then ordered, "Give me everything you have."

Confused, Kirche asked, "What?"

"I said give me what you have!" the man screamed as he shoved the barrel of his weapon into Kirche's face. "Food, water, ammo, guns, I don't give a shit what it is, just give it to me!"

"Okay, okay!" Kirche replied as she slowly slid off her rucksack and began to pull out the supplies she had gathered. After sending Suero and Marion a pleading look, they began to do the same, and soon everything they had was being neatly arranged on the concrete floor.

Nodding at the haul, the man slid off his own rucksack and dropped it in front of Kirche before ordering, "Put it all in there, nice and slowly, and don't get any funny ideas. I'd rather not waste any of my bullets on you, but I will."

With the message received, Kirche began to do as instructed, grabbing everything that they had just spent hours looting into the man's bag. In the back of her mind, she was wondering just where the others were, but knew they should be approaching soon.

"You know," Marion began, "we're not the only ones out here. Our friends are nearby, and they're on their way right now."

"Then you best hurry the fuck up," the man harshly replied. "I don't care what little group of buddies you Renaissance Fair-looking motherfuckers call yourself a part of. I'm part of the Raven's Gate Gang, and the only reason I'm not wasting any of you already is because I got better shit to shoot right now."

"You mean the zombies," Suero said, clearly wanting to keep the man talking as well.

"No shit the fucking zombies! You stupid or somethin'?!" the man incredulously asked as though Suero just said the stupidest thing in the world. "They may have gotten everyone else in this God-forsaken city, but not me. Oh no, I'm getting the fuck outta here, and no one's going to stop me."

That was when everyone heard something large settle on the roof, and the man's head shot upward in surprise. He began to ask, "What the fuck was-?"

Before he could finish his sentence, Suero shot up to his feet and attempted to tackle the man, throwing his hands into the gun and pushing it to the side. The gangster instinctively pulled the trigger, causing the gun to let off another spurt of automatic fire that luckily didn't hit anyone. Regardless, Kirche screamed and threw herself to the ground, with Marion protectively crawling over Kirche to shield her with her body.

"Get off!" the man yelled as he kneed Suero in the groin, throwing him off long enough for the pair to gain some distance. He then aimed his gun towards Suero, fully prepared to gun him down, but that was when the other doors and windows were broken down, allowing the rest of the rescue party to swarm inside.

"Back up! Back the fuck up!" the gangster yelled as he struck Suero across the face with the butt of his gun, spinning him around then grabbing him in a partial hold and pinning the barrel to his back.

"Put him down, now!" Agnès ordered harshly, aiming her handgun towards the man's head.

"Nah, nah, I don't think so, puta. Your friend and I are going to be walking out of here together, and if you don't want him to wind up full of holes you'll put your guns down," the man countered, a manic and almost insane smile on his face as his eyes darted to everyone.

"Take the shot, captain," Suero promptly ordered, causing the gangster to laugh.

"Ah-hah! The cojones on this man! I like you," he claimed while pushing the barrel deeper into Suero's back, making the Hespérian wince in discomfort. But other than a few trickles of sweat running down his brow, he was remarkably calm.

The entire warehouse fell into an intense, deep silence as everyone surrounded the gangster and his captive. Most of the gangster's attention was on the men and women holding guns, with visible confusion being spared towards the mages pointing wands at him. But he clearly recognized the situation he was in and refused to budge, using Suero as a human shield as he stepped back towards the wall. Tabitha had come down by this point, standing alongside Kirche and Marion with her staff aimed towards the man, but otherwise nothing had changed.

That was when Julio calmly stepped forward and sheathed Derflinger while saying, "Listen, let's all just calm down."

"I already told that bitch not to tell me to calm the fuck down!" the gangster declared, but Julio was undeterred.

"And I understand that, but we have you surrounded, and you have our friend," Julio pointed out. "Listen, I know you're scared. We all are, but believe me when I say that we're not your enemy. We're just trying to survive, just like you."

"We're trying to fucking survive, hombre," the man countered. "But this is Raccoon City. Here it's every man for himself."

"I have a shot," Agnès quietly whispered, but Julio frantically held up his hand to stop her.

"Wait, wait," Julio insisted, then calmly began to step forward.

"Don't take another step!" the man said, but Julio took another one before stopping.

"Alright, alright," Julio calmly said, then pointed to his chest. "My name is Julio Chesaré. I'm a priest. What's your name?"

"I already asked him that," Kirche began to say, but Julio held up a finger.

"And now I'm asking him, just as I'm asking everyone to lower their weapons," Julio stated while gently waving his outstretched arms downward. While everyone was clearly reluctant to do so, a quick grunt from Karin got them to comply.

"See, we're all friends here. No one wants to hurt you," Julio said to the terrified criminal. "Now then, let me ask again. What's your name?"

The gangster was quiet at first, then he quietly answered, "…Ernesto. Ernesto Salvador."

"Hello, Ernesto," Julio replied while giving him a gentle and calm smile. "I'm sorry we had to meet like this. But I understand that everything is…tense. We only just got here. Trying to find her daughter, you see."

Julio pointed towards Karin, whose face was as cold and still as stone. Seeing that Ernesto glanced towards the noblewoman, Julio continued, "Her name is Louise, and she's only sixteen. She's lost somewhere in this city, and we need our friend here to help find her. So please, release him. If you do, Ernesto, you have my word that none of us will hurt you."

Ernesto breathed harshly through his nose, then asked, "How do I know you won't shoot me as soon as I do?"

"I swear on God's holy name and grace," Julio declared. Kirche knew that Julio was simply trying to bullshit his way through an incredibly tense situation using whatever scraps of knowledge they had gained thus far, but she prayed that it would work.

Once again, the warehouse fell into a pit of silence, with not a soul moving. But after a few moments, Ernesto released his grip on Suero, allowing the Hespérian man to stumble away back towards the rest of the group. Kirche released a sigh of relief, but briefly feared that, with his human shield gone, Ernesto would be cut down. But nothing of the sort came, and the warehouse remained silent.

Realizing that they had a moment to gain some intel, Colbert took a step towards the somewhat relaxed man and asked, "Ernesto, can you…tell us what happened? How did this start?"

Ernesto, with his weapon lowered but ready to be raised at a moment's notice, gulped audibly before answering, "It's the fuckin' apocalypse, man. I don't know how else to describe it. Some shit got in the water and started turning fucking everyone into those…zombies. Started a few days ago, and by now everyone I know is dead, or might as well be."

"I'm…sorry to hear that," Colbert replied in a sympathetic tone of voice. "That must've been hard. We lost one of our own when we first arrived in Raccoon City. None of us were expecting those…things."

"Yeah, well…who the hell could?" Ernesto said, then released a sigh. "Look, man, I'm…sorry. Things have been rough, and most of the people I've come across were about to either shoot me or eat me. Couldn't take any chances, you know?"

"I understand completely," Colbert gently said while glancing over to Suero who was rubbing his lower back and glaring at the gangster. After a moment, Colbert nodded and began to say, "Well, I suppose now we should leave. I hope you manage to get out of here."

"Same," Ernesto said, then turned towards Karin and began to say, "and I hope you find your—"

He was interrupted by a loud, violent cough, causing Ernesto's and everyone else's attention to swing over to Alphonse who was violently hacking into his closed fist in visible pain. Ernesto's eyes widened, then he muttered, "Oh, fuck…he's bit, isn't he?"

Realizing the situation was about to deteriorate, Julio said, "Yes, our friend was bit, but—"

"No, no, no!" Ernesto began to scream and back away. "Kill him! Kill him now! Before he turns!"

"We already treated it!" Gabrielle claimed, but Ernesto wasn't listening.

"That's not going to work! That's not going to fucking work!" Ernesto yelled in panic as he began to raise his gun in Alphonse's direction, prompting Gabrielle to instinctively begin to cast a spell of her own. "He's going to-!"

That was when a single gunshot cut through his voice, and a fresh hole was blown through the middle of Ernesto's head between his eyes. As his body fell to the ground like a sack of bricks, Kirche's eyes shot towards the source, where she saw Agnès holding her handgun out, the barrel smoking.

"…Damn it," Julio whispered remorsefully while lowering his head.

"Good riddance," Suero countered while scowling at the man.

"…He was going to shoot me," Alphonse muttered, then looked towards Agnès. "Thank you."

Agnès glanced towards the water mage, then nodded and replied, "Don't mention it."

The warehouse fell into silence once again, only broken by Julio reluctantly walking towards Ernesto's fallen body. Kneeling over it, he began to rummage through his belongings, grabbing his fallen gun, which Kirche now saw had the words "M1928 Thompson - .45 ACP" engraved onto the side, and unwrapping the leather strap across his back and chest. At the same time, he pulled out another gun that was holstered in the man's pocket, a boxy handgun with a long barrel and wooden handle that reminded Kirche of a broom's, with a red '9' stenciled into the side. There were also a few lines of bullets mounted on a small metal clip, a far cry from what the other weapons used to store ammunition. Perhaps it was an older design?

"What are you doing?" Kirche finally asked as Julio continued to loot the corpse.

"Checking to see if he had anything we can use," Julio answered as he pulled out a scrap of paper. Unfolding it, he tried to read the barely legible text but found that he was unable to. He then held it up to Suero and said, "I think this is written in Hespérian. Can you read it?"

"Let me see," Suero replied as he took the scrap of paper. Looking it over, he hummed to himself while silently reading, his mouth moving but no words escaping his lips. After a moment, he declared, "Ooh, now this is interesting. Turns out when he said he was part of a gang, that wasn't just a boast."

"What's a gang?" Bernadette de Favre asked, and Suero shrugged.

"Some kind of criminal group I imagine," Suero suggested. "More importantly, it turns out that they have a warehouse somewhere around here. An armory, in fact, filled with all the guns and ammunition one could need. Guess Ernesto was trying to reach it before running into us."

A veritable sigh of relief escaped everyone's lips, then Agnès asked, "Does it say where it is?"

"Yep, and it's just down the road," Suero answered as he stuffed the paper into his pocket. "Come on, I'll lead the way."

With their path determined for now, Suero picked up his discarded long-gun and the supplies Ernesto attempted to steal from them before exiting the warehouse. The others followed suit right behind him, leaving only Kirche and Julio behind. The priest was finishing up with Ernesto's body, grabbing a few smaller boxes filled with ammunition that Kirche assumed went where the drum was currently housed. He was saying something in Romalian, a prayer most likely, which perplexed Kirche greatly.

"Why are you praying for him?" Kirche asked. "He would've killed me, Marion, and Suero, and he nearly killed Alphonse."

"He was scared and confused," Julio answered as he finished his prayer. "Yet he was still able to be talked down, if only for a moment. What happened was a tragedy for everyone, and even if we may not believe in the same gods, as a flamen it's important that someone at least try to deliver his soul to salvation."

Kirche didn't have an answer to that, but part of her felt that made sense in some way. After a moment, Julio stood fully upright and turned to face Kirche, then said, "Come on, let's go rejoin the others."


Sitting atop Sylphid's back and holding her staff out to the side with a firm grip, Tabitha carefully scanned the streets below for danger. To the party on the ground, there was only at most a couple dozen zombies in the immediate area for them to deal with at once. Easy pickings for a team filled with veteran combat mages and commoner soldiers armed with repeating firearms. But from her perspective, she could see everything in the city for miles, and what she saw struck Tabitha to her core much as it did when she first saw it.

Tens of thousands of dead wandering the streets, serving as rivers of blood, death and decay that consumed everything they touched. Even if the street they were on was relatively clear of danger, the next could be filled with dozens, maybe even hundreds of monstrosities. They streamed out of practically every crevice, rising up from the blackest pits of Hel and fully intending to drag the living back down with them, adding to their numbers. The criminal they just killed and the note they found that morning called this an apocalypse, the end times. From where she was sitting, it certainly felt that way.

Tabitha had seen more than her fair share of death and carnage over the past few years. It had regretfully become the only true consistent quality in her life ever since her father was murdered by her uncle and her mother was poisoned. But nothing she had experienced before even remotely approached this scale. The only comparable mission she could think of was her very first, back when she had no combat experience at all yet was tasked with dealing with a rampaging chimera created then unleashed by a foolhardy mage. It was a beast that would consume its victims and absorb them into its mass, taunting future victims with the warped visages of those already eaten.

It was somewhat appropriate, in Tabitha's opinion, that the only reason why she survived that mission at all was because she was helped by a local villager named Jill. She didn't have any magic at all, being a mere hunter who was skilled with a bow and also hunting the chimera in an attempt to avenge her sister, whom the beast had devoured. One might've thought that, despite her youth and inexperience, Tabitha would've been the more effective of the pair simply because she had magic. Yet, in that mission, Jill was unquestionably more useful than Tabitha despite being a commoner. It was Jill who protected her, taught her the necessary skills to survive in an impossible situation. Were it not for her help, Tabitha would've perished. Tragically, Jill ended up dying to the beast, mercifully believing that she had managed to bring it down with an enchanted arrow when it was actually Tabitha herself who finished it for good not too long afterwards. It was better that way. At least Jill didn't have to see the face of her sister in the chimera's body when it was finally put down.

She had learned many things during that first mission, lessons that were reinforced time and time again in subsequent tasks for the Gallian crown. She learned how to defend herself, how to hone her magic into a deadly weapon and effective tool. She learned how to take a life should she need to. And, perhaps most importantly of all, she learned that just because someone didn't have magic that didn't mean they weren't useful. In fact, the skills and knowledge they brought to the table could be more crucial than any spell alone.

Obviously the situation in Raccoon City was vastly different than what she dealt with before. But it was readily apparent that, if any of them were to survive, the commoner soldiers with them would be just as important to their success as the mage commanders. Luckily it seemed that Duchess Vallière recognized this, but she wasn't entirely certain about the others. Aside from Kirche, obviously, but that went without saying. Speaking of her friend, Tabitha glanced down towards the party below as they snaked their way through the railyard, heading towards an inconspicuous building near the far end. She was holding herself in the center, trying her best to simply stay out of the way while the others did their work.

Tabitha couldn't help but release a sigh. She always had misgivings about Kirche inserting herself into this mission. The only reason why she had gone along with it in the first place was because she knew who Kirche was. Once Kirche put her mind to something, come Hel or high water she was going to see it through. She should've pushed back more against the idea, done more to convince Kirche that this was her responsibility alone, but she didn't. She went along with it, feeling as though it was the path of least resistance.

By now it was more than obvious that was a mistake. Perhaps the biggest one in her entire life. It didn't matter if they had no idea they were walking into a calamity with death literally lurking around every corner. The fact remained that they were in a warzone, an environment that Kirche wasn't ready for in the slightest. She was a civilian, much like Tabitha was when she first started her missions for the Gallian crown. That put her in a tremendous amount of danger, both to herself and to the others who would have to pick up the slack.

If they were lucky, perhaps Kirche could rise to the occasion much like Tabitha herself did. But she wasn't counting on that, nor did she want to. She didn't want this kind of life for anyone, especially to the closest thing she could consider to an actual friend. One thing was certain, though. If it was within her power, Tabitha was going to ensure that Kirche survived. It was her mission that prompted Kirche to tag along in the first place, which made it her responsibility.

Of course, the other elephant in the room was Louise's whereabouts, and what would happen once they found her and this Saito. Assuming they were alive, whatever problems they were having with Kirche would undoubtedly increase exponentially with Louise herself. Probably even more so, for at least Kirche could cast basic fire magic. Louise may be a Void mage, but her explosions were loud, which would inevitably draw attention. The only silver lining there was that the rescue team was anticipating Louise being a scared, defenseless school-girl and had factored it into their plans accordingly.

The reminder that Louise was actually a Void mage made Tabitha purse her lips once again. She had thought about it a few times before, ever since she came to that realization. It was just as Kirche said. Louise's true affinity explained a lot of things. Her supposed failures with magic, the Church's interest in her. The only real questions that remained were how Louise managed to inherit the Founder's power in the first place, and how long she unknowingly had access to it this entire time. As far as Tabitha knew, none of Louise's family ever had these sorts of problems. If anything, especially after seeing her mother in action, the exact opposite should've been the case. Yet obviously Louise was different.

She suspected that royal blood had something to do with Louise inheriting the Void. After all, all four royal families of the Brimiric Kingdoms traced their lineage back to the Founder himself, and the Vallières were a branch to the House of Tristain. That was likely how she got it, but why did Louise get the power when no one else in her family did? It would've been one thing if one of her parents or even her grandparents expressed the same difficulties with magic that she did, but that didn't happen.

It was a mystery that Tabitha knew would plague the back of her mind until it was solved. She couldn't even begin to suspect how many possible answers there could be. It was possible that, based off Julio's words, that Void truly was alive and it chose Louise for a reason. Perhaps it recognized that her parents were two exceptionally powerful mages that passed their strength on to her, thus making her the most attractive vessel? But Julio was a priest so that could just be his religious upbringing clouding his judgement. It may have merely been a stroke of luck or happenstance.

Regardless, Tabitha supposed it didn't really matter how Louise gained the power of Void. What mattered was that she did, which made her important. Not only to the people of this party, who needed to find her just to escape Raccoon City, but to the people back home who undoubtedly would plot to use her abilities to their advantage. In that aspect, Tabitha did not envy Louise in the slightest, and she couldn't help but sigh and shake her head.

Though really, wasn't the whole reason Tabitha was here in the first place because she was already trapped in just such a situation? She was forced to put her life on the line as a tool for her royal relatives, and none of these revelations changed the results she was expected to deliver from this mission. Her uncle would demand not only the important information she had already gained, but "samples" as well. Tabitha could well imagine just what manner of samples from this world would pique King Joseph's interest, and she could hand over none of them to him in good conscience, nor to anyone else for that matter. And yet, what choice did she really have?

Thankfully, her musings were broken when she noticed that the party had finally arrived at the warehouse. Gently urging Sylphid to descend, they landed right when Colbert managed to magically unlock the door, much to the middle-aged professor's jubilation. He had been going over Louise's notes on this worlds' basic locks every chance he could, so hopefully now it would be easier to get through them. If they came across anything more complex, they would have another issue, but they could worry about that later.

Seeing that there was an upward-sliding metal door big enough for Sylphid to pass through, Tabitha waited outside as Wardes and a few of the commoner soldiers breached the interior. A few moments later, the door was opened and Wardes gave the all clear signal, allowing everyone else to safely enter the building.

At first everything was dark, with none of the lights turned on. When the metal door was closed, the entire warehouse was plunged into darkness, briefly illuminated by Colbert and the other mages casting some overhead illumination spells. Soon, however, someone was able to find a light switch, and with a loud clang they heard and saw every single light and machine in the building come to life. It briefly made Tabitha wince before her eyes adjusted, but they eventually did.

Almost immediately she heard Eugene whistle appreciatively while saying, "Gods damn… That is beautiful."

For a person desperate to obtain any advantage they could in this situation, his assessment was more than accurate. While it was obvious that others had been here before, with dozens of boxes and wall-racks already looted, she could see handfuls of firearms in a wide array of types and models. There were handguns and long-guns, some with similar shapes and designs to what they found earlier, while others were radically different.

"Grab everything you can," Agnès ordered as she went to a metal shelving unit which was already unlocked.

There was only one firearm left in a space that must've held at least five previously, which the musketeer immediately grabbed. From what Tabitha could see, it was a rifle of some kind labeled with the words "Marlin 1895." It had a tan wooden stock and foregrip on the barrel that also contained what must've been an ammunition tube. On the side of the blue-steeled receiver seemed to be a feeding slot, and to Tabitha's surprise the grip could be extended outward like a lever. She reasoned it must've been like the long-gun Suero had taken.

Agnès was already grabbing some large brass cylinders with rounded bullets from a box labeled ".45-70 Government," feeding each bullet individually into the feeding slot. She wasn't the only one, as each of the commoners were grabbing whatever they could and trying their best to figure out how they worked.

"Founder, these Varyag sure have a lot of types of guns," Marion remarked as she held up a wooden rifle, this one having a mounted scope. Underneath the scope was a metal knob that could be turned up and pulled back, which the musketeer was eagerly testing. Tabitha could barely make out the words "Remington R700 – 7.62 NATO" etched onto the barrel.

Tabitha grunted in agreement, then shifted her gaze to the side as she came across a wooden crate that was mostly intact, aside from the top being pried off. The box itself was completely plain, with the words "Fragile – Handle with Care" stamped onto it alongside a familiar Umbrella Corporation logo, but nothing that would draw any real attention. At least until she reached inside, where she found that the entire box was filled with straw and, at the very bottom, a large amount of firearms and ammunition boxes.

In fact, as she looked around more and more, she began to realize that most of these boxes had the Umbrella logo somewhere on them. That made her narrow her eyes in suspicion. Louise described Umbrella as an apothecary guild, so why would they be transporting weapons? Poisons and drugs, sure, but guns? It didn't make any sense.

But she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, and so she decided to help gather as many guns and ammunition as she could. Part of her wondered how they would be able to carry everything, but then she realized that she already had an answer to that.

"Duchess, Captain," Tabitha called out, "we can use Sylphid to carry anything we can't ourselves."

Duchess Karin de la Vallière and Agnès briefly looked at Tabitha while Sylphid shot her master a brief look of betrayal. Then the two women nodded in agreement before going back to sorting the haul. They'd have to find bags or something to attach to Sylphid to carry everything, but that shouldn't be too difficult.

"I still can't make heads or tails of these things," Baron Valluy admitted as he held up a large handgun with a wooden grip and blued-steel finish that had a rotating chamber in the center. On the weapon, Tabitha could see the words "Smith and Wesson Model 29 - .44 Mag" etched in the metal. He was holding it out with one hand, one eye closed as he aimed down the iron sights, then lowered his hand and placed the firearm back onto the table he looted it from.

Grabbing another handgun from a box labeled "SIG Sauer P220 - .45 ACP," which looked similar to the Hi-Powers they found earlier but with a nickel-plating and somewhat bulkier, he continued, "Honestly, what makes this different from the ones we found earlier? More importantly, how are we supposed to use all of these? We can't just rely on trial and error."

Tabitha supposed he had a point, even if she suspected his displeasure and confusion were based in something else. She then said, "It might be a good idea for us to take the time to actually practice and learn about these things before moving on. We do appear to be in a relatively safe place, after all."

"She's right," Suero said as he took the nickel-plated handgun from the Baron. "This might be our last chance to do so."

"Hmm," Baron Valluy grunted, then walked away without taking the other gun for his own, much like the other mages.

That was when she heard a loud clicking noise, and to her surprise saw that Professor Colbert was holding a handgun of his own. In fact, he was loading fresh bullets into an ammunition box that he then inserted into the weapon.

"What are you doing?" Tabitha asked as Colbert inspected his weapon, which she now noticed had the words "Samurai Edge – 9x19mm Parabellum" engraved onto the barrel.

"The longer we're out there, the more likely it is that we're going to run out of willpower. When that happens, we'll be defenseless," Colbert reasoned. "I may have…reservations about weapons this devastating…but I cannot deny that using them right now may be the difference between life and death."

Without saying another word, Colbert went back to loading more bullets. Tabitha grew silent, then realized that he was absolutely correct. None of the other mages seemed to share this viewpoint, even if they were inspecting the guns out of pure curiosity. But none gave any indication that they planned on keeping any of the guns for themselves. They seemed content to let the commoners have exclusive rights to them.

"Hey, what do you think this is?" Eugene called out as he held up a large firearm that resembled more of a tube with a wooden buttstock rather than a musket. There was a latch where the receiver met the stock, which when pressed caused the barrel to hinge downward. Humming appreciatively, Eugene moved it back into place with a loud click, then read aloud, "'M79 – 40mm GL.' What does that mean?"

"I have no idea, but it's clearly powerful. Look at the size of that barrel," Vivian muttered as she hummed appreciatively. She herself was holding a small, blocky firearm with a folding metal stock that had the letters "IMI Uzi – .45 ACP" etched on the side, but no indication as to what it was. Laurette de Peltier and Claudette de Piaget, meanwhile, were both holding what appeared to be identical rifles made of a strange material, a vertical grip underneath the barrel, an integrated scope, and ammunition boxes mounted behind the trigger, each one labeled "Steyr AUG – 5.56 NATO."

After a few moments, Tabitha's attention was drawn to a nearby desk, where she saw a few handguns left behind. Walking over to them, she began to pick them up and test the weight. Most were too big for her diminutive hands and frame, and based off what she had seen earlier, she didn't want to grab anything that would kick too hard. But one of the handguns seemed to be a near-perfect fit. It wasn't like the Hi-Powers most of the commoners were using. In fact, it was closer to the handgun Baron Valluy had found earlier, only much smaller and it didn't have an exposed hammer. The wooden handle was thin and curved upward, and the metal was a dull grey. On the side she could see the worlds "Smith and Wesson Bodyguard – .38 Special", which she assumed, much like the others, was the weapon's model and ammunition.

Deciding that it would suffice, Tabitha grabbed the weapon and tried to figure out how it worked or at least how to reload it. After a few moments, she pressed a button on the side, which caused the cylinder housed in the center of the weapon to swing outward, exposing five holes. Narrowing her eyes, she noticed a box of .38 Special bullets and grabbed a few rounds from inside. She carefully inserted the bullets into the holes, finding that they were a perfect match. Noticing another box labeled .357 Magnum, she saw that those bullets were the same diameter but substantially longer, which prevented her from putting them in the cylinder holes and closing the weapon back up.

"Hey, I found something!" Kirche called out as she held up a black box which was identical to what they had found back in the Hiraga apartment.

"What is it?" Karin de la Vallière asked as Kirche walked over and handed the box to the Duchess.

"I don't know but it's labeled 'Training Video' or something. Might be worth trying to watch it," Kirche suggested.

After a moment, Karin de la Vallière nodded in agreement, then handed the box back to Kirche and ordered, "Find a way to play it."

Kirche nodded, then hurried along to somewhere else in the warehouse, with Tabitha right on her heels. After a few minutes of quiet searching, they were able to find a large, windowed box, or television based off of Louise's notes, that was mounted to a rolling cart. Underneath the box was an identical device to what the Hiragas had, which Kirche eagerly placed the cassette into.

"Okay, let's see what we got," Kirche began as the others started to gather around.

"Let's hope this'll give us at least some information," Wardes admitted as he crossed his arms.

A moment later, the screen came to life and showed a muscular man, his arms covered in tattoos, wearing a grey tank top. He had a full head of hair and a thick beard, but most striking of all were his eyes. Mostly due to just how angry they were.

"Alright, you fucking idiots, listen up!" the man began to say, causing the assembled party to fall quiet.

"…Already I can tell this is going to be very productive," Gabrielle de Hauet muttered, with her twin brother nodding in agreement.

"Now, I didn't think I had to make this video. In fact, I didn't want to," the man continued as he began to walk back and forth behind a wooden table that was covered in different types of firearms and bullets. "Because, after all, who in America doesn't know what the fuck a gun is or how to use one? It's not like it's rocket science or we haven't grown up with them our entire fuckin' lives. But based off the recent batches of recruits we keep getting, apparently not."

The man scowled as he leaned forward across the table and growled, "The sheer amount of disrespect and idiocy that I have been experiencing from you people is an abomination. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You people don't know your own heads from your asses, apparently!"

The rescue party, particularly the more hot-headed nobles, began to breathe harshly in anger, but Tabitha kept herself calm and hoped that there would be a point to the man's seething rant.

He then continued, "Over the past few weeks, I have seen people try putting the wrong bullets in the wrong gun, like filling a shotgun with rifle rounds. Hell, some dumbass got into a shootout with the cops but couldn't actually fire anything because he loaded all the bullets in his magazine backwards! Who the fuck does that?!"

Tabitha couldn't help but raise her eyebrow at that declaration. Even someone who was a complete novice like her could easily figure out which way the bullets were supposed to go. That was when she heard a faint squeak coming from Kirche, followed by the Germanian girl, who had grabbed the same type of handgun that Suero had claimed for himself earlier, subtly attempting to remove the bullets she had previously loaded. All of which were backwards.

She gave her friend a flat stare, which was shared by Suero, then turned her attention back to the recording as the man, now finishing his tirade, released a sigh. He then began to say, "In light of that…incident, I decided to record this. It doesn't matter how well supplied we are in our operation from our friends in high and low places if none of the people we recruit know what the hell they're working with. S.T.A.R.S. keeps getting better and better, and if we're going to keep up we gotta step up our game. So, allow your dear old Uncle Fernandez to explain the basics of guns to ya."

The man apparently named Fernandez first pulled out a small pistol round and held it up for the camera, where he began to say slowly and condescendingly, "This… is a cartridge. There are many different types of cartridges. This one, specifically, is a 9mm Luger, meant for certain pistols and submachineguns chambered for this caliber. Some are bigger, some are smaller. But, structurally, they are the same."

Tapping the top of the cartridge, Fernandez continued, "Inside the cartridge is gunpowder. When the trigger is pulled and the gun goes off, the hammer or striker hits the primer located at the bottom of the cartridge. This ignites the gunpowder and creates an explosion, causing the bullet – that's this pointy bit up here – to shoot outward and down the barrel of the gun towards whatever you're pointing it at. So make sure when you pull the trigger, you're not pointing it at your own balls."

He put away the pistol cartridge and pulled out one of the larger plastic variants. Holding it up, he said, "This…is a twelve-gauge shotgun shell. It's like the other cartridge, but instead of firing one bullet, it fires a bunch of tiny pellets. This goes into shotguns, hence the name. Sometimes a shell will have a large slug. Think of it as a heavy bullet. If you're lucky, you'll also find specialty ammo like frag rounds, which explode upon impact, or Dragon's Breath, which sets shit on fire. Shotguns are among the most versatile weapons in America, which is why we fucking love the things."

Suero glanced down at the Mossberg in his lap, then shrugged in acceptance before refocusing his attention back to the screen.

"Finally, this is a .223 rifle round," Fernandez declared as he held up a large brass cartridge with a long, pointed bullet. "This goes into rifles. Now you may be asking, 'are they called rifles because they use rifle bullets?' No, you sweet little dumbass. They're called rifles because the barrels are rifled, which makes the bullet spin and increases both accuracy and velocity. So when you see the little groves inside the barrel, do not, for the love of God, try to tamper with them."

Tabitha could tell, based off of the tone in his voice, that someone had done just that. The concept of rifling wasn't unknown to Halkegenia. Germanian blacksmiths had introduced it decades before, but it remained prohibitively expensive. Combine that with most mages simply not being interested in firearms, that meant knowledge of rifling's existence was fairly limited. Aside from Tabitha herself, it appeared that only Duchess Vallière, Viscount Wardes, Professor Colbert and Julio didn't react as though it was an alien concept.

Then, much to her surprise, she heard Kirche mutter under her breath, "I know what a rifle is…"

Eugene also muttered, "Aren't most of the guns they have rifled?"

"Be quiet," Agnès quietly ordered, causing the axeman to clam up.

Eugene was correct. Aside from the Varyag's shotguns, the vast majority of their firearms, from their handguns to their long-guns, had rifling in the barrels. Its prevalence only added to the implications Tabitha had been noticing ever since they arrived, implications that screamed about the wealth and power of this world compared to their own.

Fernandez then pulled out one of the small boxes that went into the grips of the handgun, where he began to explain, "This right here is a magazine, not a clip. Those are the little metal strips you put bullets on to load into a magazine. Magazines hold all the bullets that your gun can fire before needing to reload. Some are internal and can't be removed, like most shotguns, while others are removable. Either way, we have long since abandoned the days where we could only fire one bullet at time and had to stuff them down the barrel like a caveman. Now, unless you're using a revolver, a double-barrel shotgun, or something like that, all you gotta do is correctly load the bullets into the magazine, insert the magazine into the gun, and you are ready to fire. Do you all understand that? Good, because it's about to get a lot more complicated."

For the next hour, the rescue party watched as the criminal went over every single aspect of firearms he could in the most condescending way possible. If he could've talked down more to them, he would've done so, Tabitha knew. To say that she was insulted would be a bit of an understatement. But, at the same time, the man clearly knew what he was talking about as he went over everything in a way that, while tremendously degrading, was clearly understandable. He went over the different types of guns, showed how they worked and how to operate them effectively. The man even grabbed a few clearly unwilling assistants to help demonstrate proper gun safety, with the most important lesson being "do not point your gun at anything you don't want to shoot."

When it was finally over, and the tape shut off, the party was silent for a moment. Then Kirche quietly admitted, "I simultaneously feel incredibly offended…and informed. It's a strange feeling."

"Agreed," Agnès confirmed, then stood up and said, "Now then, with that out of the way… Derflinger, were you able to sense anything new about Louise?"

"Hmm, maybe… I think she went east but it's hard to say," Derflinger admitted.

"It's as good a lead as any," Agnès sighed. "We'll give you another hour to home in on her. In the meantime, let's use what we just learned and get some practice in."

The party reacted appropriately, with the commoners grabbing their weapons and making their way to a makeshift gun-range that mostly consisted of going to the roof and firing upon the roaming hordes of undead outside. Along the way, they made sure to stop by a box filled with ear plugs which Fernandez insisted any shooter wear so that they don't go deaf. There had been worries that wearing them would make it harder to hear each other and the zombies, but apparently these were really good earplugs which were somehow able to muffle only gunshots but nothing else. How that, exactly, worked Tabitha had no idea, but she accepted it regardless.

Tabitha went up to join them, wanting to get at least some practice in with her new weapon just in case she needed it. As she stood on the roof, she likened their temporary refuge to an island in a churning sea. It was as safe of a place as anywhere possibly be, one that she wasn't particularly eager to leave, even if she knew she had to. A few of the commoners gave her questioning looks, but otherwise did nothing aside from practicing with their own weapons and thinning the herd outside.

But as she began lining up for her first few shots, she thought she noticed something flying behind a building far down the street. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously, but couldn't see anything. After a moment, she went back to doing what she had been doing before, but now she couldn't escape the feeling that they were being watched.


Hello, everyone! Here is the latest chapter of Familiar Evil! Special thanks to NaanContributor and Jesse K for their help in bringing this chapter to life.

Not a lot of action this chapter, but plenty of survival-horror's most essential trope: scavenging for supplies. In this case, finding weapons and ammo. Now, you may notice that, unlike Saito and Louise, I just gave the party all the guns they're going to get right out the box. That is because there are 19 people in this party, and trying to spread that out would get very tiresome very quick. We figured it was best to just get it out of the way.

The party is also following in Louise's tracks, even if they don't have the full picture. Needless to say, you can expect more of that as time goes on. Going through familiar locations after the action is already done, thus allowing new characters to react to the aftermath, is fun as a writer.

Now then, to answer a few questions:

I'm glad you guys liked the last chapter! Yeah, it was inevitable that people would end up biting it during the initial encounter with zombies. Sure, only one died, but Alphonse as you can tell is a ticking time bomb. When it'll go off, and what'll happen when it does, will be revealed in due time.

You'll have to wait and see if the RP witnesses Raccoon City getting nuked, as well as how long it'll take for them to catch up to Saito and Louise. They will eventually, though. If Saito and Louise are the A Plot, the RP is the B Plot. The laws of narrative dictate that the two plotlines converge eventually.

Yeah, as you can tell Kirche is in way over her head, and she and everyone else knows it. Expect more of that to come into play as Kirche develops from being "the load" to potentially someone far more useful.

Don't expect any major interactions with the RE2 or RE3 cast as I don't want my story to intervene in the canon stories of those games. The reason why I used the ORC characters is because they aren't canon, meaning I could do whatever I wanted with them.

The fate of Saito's parents is deliberately ambiguous. Don't worry, you guys will find out the truth in due time. Needless to say, though, no matter what it is, it isn't good.

Next chapter should be the last purely-dedicated RP chapter. After that, we're going back to Saito and Louise, and thereafter chapters will alternate between the two groups. That is, of course, assuming that next chapter doesn't get split into two. I'm hoping that doesn't happen but you never know. My chapters tend to get long.

Saito and Louise have to kiss in order for the contract to bind, yes. When that happens, Saito should become the Gandalfr. As for when that'll happen, or if it will, you'll have to wait and see.

Aside from Kirche, everyone in the party are professionals, so they were able to regain their composures fairly quickly. But that could change as the stress gets to them as, unlike Saito and Louise, there are a lot more faultlines in the RP that can get aggravated and expand.

I'm glad you guys like my story, but do remember that I do not take outright suggestions. This is my story to tell, one that we already have solid plans on where it'll go. You guys are just along for the ride.

This story is very, very unlikely to have a legitimate harem element simply due to the sitaution that is going on. No one has time nor the energy to entertain such things, not to mention Saito and Louise would be emotionally dependent on the other to an extreme degree. There wouldn't be any room for such a dynamic to occur. But as FoZ is a canon harem comedy, I like to throw in reasonable references if only to add some humor as well as reference the source material. Nothing major, more like Kirche finding Saito attractive and commenting on it. Don't expect the story to actually devolve into a harem story. A character who liked/loved Saito in canon might still do that in my story, but they'll also realize that they have no chance whatsoever and react accordingly.

That's it for now. Let us know what you guys think. If any of you have a TV Tropes account, any assistance in updating the TV Tropes page would be greatly appreciated. We hope you enjoy and see you all next time!