Chapter 55: I Bought a Whorehouse (Part 8)
The sensation of cold water across a tightly clenched fist drew Natsume from her straying thoughts, the Taimanin quickly scrubbing away the bloody flakes that adorned her hands before splashing some of the liquid across her face, taking a deep breath before staring at her reflection in the mirror, wryly amused at what she found.
A worried, anxious woman that was the complete and total antithesis to the cool, collected beauty she had acted and lived as for a great number of years. And all because a man had vanished under her watch and might be in danger.
…If any of her old colleagues in the black ops department could see her now they'd be laughing themselves unconscious, that 'Mind-Flayer Amadare' was fretting over a boy.
"It's for the best, then, that they'll never learn of this. Ideally."
Running a comb through her hair to work out what few snarls existed she took a deep breath, forcing herself to focus and ignore the erratic beating of her heart as guilt and frustration over her inability to safeguard her savior raged. Yes, she had followed his instructions and they had captured two of their assailants for interrogation but if she had perhaps stayed close by, been able to act against the one who had initiated the teleportation array…
"You really need to stop beating yourself up over this. He's fine and if he wasn't he'd just summon me over like he did Oct. Our connection and ability to be called isn't held back by a gap between worlds."
Softly sighing at Cerb's casual comment as he immediately fell in step beside her Natsume commented, "I sincerely hope I'm not that transparent."
"I'm a dog at heart, we're pretty good at noticing when someone is feeling down. Leader wouldn't want you freaking out regardless."
Touched at the display - and ensuring that her reaction was properly hidden - Amadare merely nodded her thanks, instead feeling her eyes narrow as she mused, "Your words are appreciated. And action is a preferable alternative to worry regardless."
Striding towards one of the siderooms that Pier 16 hadn't yet found a use for yet - Cayman had been planning ahead when he'd had the structure built - the remaining members of the team were all gathered, Mai and Asia in particular trying to conceal their anxiety as they stared at the blindfolded, gagged and restrained pair attached to a set of metal chairs, the rest of the group hovering nearby with far more neutral or predatory expressions.
Felicia in particular looked almost gleeful to get to work, Natsume instead examining the captured duo once more.
In reality they were fairly unremarkable, one a female Devil with two wings and the other a cybernetically enhanced Human male, garbed in hardy but unmarked clothing as she turned to Minasaki and Hatsukaze, both Demons fretting over the loss of their friend but no doubt having gone through similar situations countless times before, confirming, "He's not in this realm, probably the Demon one if we had to guess."
"Sure fits with the continued lack of signal."
Kuroka lazily slipped her phone down her cleavage, Natsume nodding as everything they had expected and assumed seemed to line up with the readily available evidence.
"How did this even happen? Did you just happen to forget that there's a lot of people who would happily see that idiot dead?"
While she felt a brief surge of irritation at Jinglei's accusatory words the older woman kept her cool, replying, "The accuracy and timing of the attack suggests they had very precise information, likely from the representative we were going to meet with or someone close to them. And right now we have an opportunity to know more before we jump to conclusions."
"So why don't you let me loose on these two, hmm~? I bet I'll have them talking in no time."
While the Taimanin didn't doubt the Vampire's ability to have the pair loosen their lips she DID doubt her ability to have them do so in any sort of useful or conducive manner, especially when they had alternative methods.
"We will have need of your 'talents' later if all else fails but for now why not let the professionals handle matters, hmm?"
"Aww…but little miss nun over here can heal people really easily, that'd make things even easier!"
Asia seemed rather green in the face as she caught onto the implications of that statement, Natsume ignoring Felicia's complaint as she instead turned to Kuroka, inquiring, "Are you capable of creating an illusion of Creusery Asmodeus?"
"Can birds fly? I can do anything you want, nya~!"
"Then please do so."
Concentrating for a moment the Nekoshou remained dead silent, scarcely so much as breathing until all around them the terrain shifted and melted, taking on a very different and unfamiliar tinge as Amadare found herself assuming the form of the old Pillar Devil, nodding in satisfaction before softly whispering, even her voice perfectly modulated.
"Then let's begin."
Removing the gag from the woman Natsume immediately darted forward as the unconscious Devil's mouth rolled open, sealing their lips together as she spit a healthy amount of saliva down her throat, tongue artfully caressing teeth and gums before withdrawing, closing her eyes and allowing her Taimanin arts to course their way through the Devil's body, tense posture and frantic thoughts gradually slowing down into an almost drug like haze.
Judging her target sufficiently controlled Natsume nodded to Yukikaze, the younger Taimanin happily zapping the Devil awake before removing the blindfold, Natsume meeting bright orange eyes that widened upon seeing her false appearance as sense returned.
"The Surveyor yet lives. Why have you failed me?"
Reeling from the combination of Natsume's Core Backflow technique and heavy Youjutsu illusions the Devil slurred out, "You…you aren't supposed to be here…where's my true love?"
The Taimanin imagined there would be no shortage of confused stares being bandied about behind Kuroka's illusion, keeping her own reaction concealed as she authoritatively stated, "True love? Have you forgotten who you serve? The master and successor of the Asmodeus line or some harlot you fancifully imagine desires you?"
An unhinged and dreamy giggle escaped the Devil, tone lascivious as she replied, "You're my master no longer, Asmodeus…Lady Ereshkigal showed me true love and she is my sole mistress now. No matter, the Surveyor will be hunted down and killed regardless, the fat Human had contingencies just in case we failed…"
Motioning for Kuroka to cut things off the Yokai placed her hand on the Devil's head, prompting her to unconsciousness once again as the illusion faded, no shortage of frown present as Rin clarified, "So she wasn't talking about the Goddess Ereshkigal, right?"
"No more than she was talking about Amor, Magus."
Caren's derisive comment seemed to bring about an odd moment of cosmic uncertainty from the group, as if something truly bizarre had been mentioned before they all shook off the spell, Natsume stating, "I will contact Lord Phantom's faction and discern what I can, demanding an explanation. Now isn't the time to be coy, if Cayman is indeed being tracked down by Real's agents."
"Guess it was pretty clear who the fat man was, huh~?"
Felicia turned her gaze to the Human, eagerly inquiring, "So can I-"
Natsume rolled her shoulders, idly remarking, "Let's see what else we can learn through gentle methods first."
[This is but a temporary setback, Lady Ereshkigal. The teleportation did occur around the Surveyor's team and we have already begun searching for any sign of-]
Feeling her patience reach its absolute maximum at the fat Human's constant stream of excuses and protests the Demon Queen caustically stated, "Enough of your overblown and pathetic groveling, servant. You may try to pretty up the situation as much as you desire but the reality is that your assassins were captured, the transfer failed and neither the Sanctuary dog nor that damn Succubus are within my grasp. This is not some public debate, you do not have the privilege of hiding behind half truths and deflections."
The magically projected image was crisp and detailed enough that Ereshkigal could see the sheen of sweat that adorned Real's brow and wet his collar, beady eyes nervously shifting about as she briefly fantasized of physically ripping open his obese throat before promptly dismissing the idea, her lip curling at the idea of his filthy Human blood, fat and sweat coating her skin.
[This is no half truth, we were able to discern where, roughly, they were transported and I have already put together a team of specialized assassins that will chase them down from various allies and patrons of Under EDEN.]
"A squad of executioners pulled from the best of a glorified brothel's clientele? I will endeavor to not get my hopes up. And I advise you to remember what I said about avoiding concrete answers. How rough of an idea?"
[...An area just short of ten thousand square kilometers.]
Fingers tightening around the edge of her scepter Ereshkigal very nearly lost her composure and sought to end the fool's life that exact moment, mastering herself as she had no desire to give the bastard the pleasure of making her act according to his mistakes and actions.
"Allow me to make this abundantly clear. If you desire to keep your influence and power within the confines of your little playground then you will not fail and make worthless the terms of our bargain. I have no intention of supporting a worthless insect that cannot accomplish a simple task."
[Y-yes, I will endeavor to-]
She canceled the communication, scowling all the while and fighting back the urge to click her tongue in great disgust. The fat fool knew his position within the Khaos Brigade had waned as of late with all of the scrutiny first the Taimanin and now Sanctuary was applying, his pitiful laboratory and that inactive doll he was holding quickly outweighing the risks of future association. The only praise the Demon Queen would offer the rat was that he had a survival instinct as sharp as aforementioned rodent, sensing which way the wind was blowing and was now desperate to seek an outside benefactor, one that he could rely on to offer continued patronage.
While his clientele had power and influence, they lacked the raw strength necessary to truly reign supreme in this world.
"I don't suppose you find yourself in the mood for a hunt purely out of idle interest?"
"To borrow a common phrase, this seems like 'small potatoes'. As well as potentially dangerous since this Surveyor seems to be the slippery sort."
Ereshkigal merely rolled her eyes at the elegant and posh words that came from her counterpart's lips, dripping with insincere humor as she glared at the much smaller woman.
Glittering ruby eyes, a petite and lithe figure adorned in a silken black dress, pale skin and long raven hair that flowed in glistening waves to her dainty feet covered in elegant heels.
As always, Altrouge Brunestud was individually not much more than a pretty face with a respectable amount of strength, her true worth and power coming from the ones that stood beside her.
Garbed in a dark, tattered overcoat with ancient greaves and vambraces complimenting ancient and noble features Rizo-Waal Strout stood at silent attention, Demonic Sword slung at his side as he pretended to stare off into nothing, the Apostle Ancestor obviously extending his senses in every direction for any hint of a threat to his charge.
The magical projector once more hummed to life at Altrouge's command, displaying the brief image they had retrieved from the assassination attempt of the Succubus cowering behind the sword wielder, the Vampire casually inquiring, "Does this pitiable creature really deserve so much of your time and effort, though? You bade them begin the attack early, I was under the impression that they should not have been assaulted until they were within the heart of the city to maximize angles of attack."
Not desiring to relay her vendetta and apprehension over the heritage of the worthless wretch calling herself a Succubus Ereshkigal deigned to simply reply with, "Consider her an analogue to your rivalry with Arcueid Brunestud and leave it at that."
Altrouge's eyes briefly narrowed but ultimately the Ancestor decided to let the matter drop, Ereshkigal stating a moment later, "Our business has been concluded, unless you have need of some other matter that needs our attention you may see yourself out."
Dark Knight Strout minutely tensed at the open disrespect, Ereshkigal idly amused at how easy it was to rile up the loyal ones as Altrouge gently raised a sole finger, quieting her bodyguard as she curiously remarked, "You don't seem particularly married to the idea of having me hunt down this Surveyor and your little problem. Despite my words it might be worth it, if only to nip this particular meddler of the Kaliedoscope's ilk now."
"And incur any further debt? I will deal with this matter in my own way."
"As you wish. Although with this gift I would go so far as to say your debt has been nearly done away with…"
Lovingly tracing her fingers over the edge of a fragment of Crimson Moon's Knight Arm 'Real of the World' the Demon Queen resisted the urge to snort at Altrouge's expression, the Ancestor acting like a silly schoolgirl rather than an ancient Vampire. True, she could respect the history of the weapon but as it was now - a jagged shape of worn gray and black that nonetheless seemed foreign to the naked eye - it was hardly worth any sort of true admiration. It's appeal and worth had reigned when Crimson Moon first arrived on Earth, doing battle with the terrestrial calamity from the sea and subsequently shattering when he crossed swords with the Kaleidoscope centuries later.
"I will contact you at a later date when more of our respective tasks and plots have fallen into place."
The casual reminder of their desired departure snapped Altrouge out of her reverence, clearing her throat before rising to her feet and calmly announcing, "Until next time, Lady Ereshkigal."
The clatter of heels and thud of metal boots echoed through her empty castle, Ereshkigal waiting until they were silent before clicking her tongue in vexation.
It was unbecoming of a woman with her power and station to rely on foreign aid but the harsh reality of their world - one that irritated her and was to soon be rectified - was that there were precious, precious few that had the power and means to truly affect change all on their own, in defiance of every faction and organization that would oppose them.
For the rest of them? From Gods to Devas to Demons to Devils to mere mortals? They had to ally and band together to change the realms, to pool their resources and strengths to bring about their visions and desires. The Khaos Brigade was perhaps the largest and most successful of movements in recent history but Ereshkigal had no desire to take part in that already fracturing and divided house, instead throwing in her lot with Altrouge's faction and their dead end ritual.
The group didn't have nearly the reach and clout they thought they did, assuming they would be able to carry out the revival of the Dark Six with only opposition from the other Apostle Ancestors and a select few Moonlit factions.
As if anyone wanted to see the Dead Apostle Ancestors rise once more in power and influence. She strongly suspected Altrouge would find herself on the unfortunate end of a combined force whenever they got around to carrying out their plan.
Regardless, while their star may have waned what they did have was considerable personal power and Ereshkigal intended to take advantage of that for as long as possible…once it was settled for all to see that she was the sole ruler fit to control the Demon's world and not Kamadeva, the Incubus King or any other pretender then her supposed allies would be summarily dealt with.
And it would all start with that meddling Surveyor.
Real dabbed at his forehead with an already damp cloth, trying and failing to keep his perspiration to a minimum as he cursed both the Khaos Brigade and that uptight bitch Ereshkigal.
"What I would give to see that arrogant slut at the mercy of my creations…"
Shaking away such unrealistic and pointless thoughts the man instead marched to where he had hastily gathered a solution to his problem…or at least he hoped it was a solution to his problem, Real was going to be more than a little upset if his expenditure of both capital and influence ended up being a colossal failure.
"Of course. I offer my services to the Khaos Brigade and all they do is paint an accursed target on my back. I accepted guardianship of Alfred Norman's accursed doll as a means to earn favor and now it looks as if it will be my downfall."
Grinding and gnashing his teeth together as he heard the sound of raised and combative voices emanating from his destination Real threw open the door leading to his hired squad of assassins, met with a cacophony of noise and myriad threats.
"Hah?! Now I'm a strict holy man and would much rather prefer a bouncy and bodacious babe to defile but a fuckin' smart mouth brat like yourself could do with a bit of the ol' rod against the cheek! Maybe down your throat too if you don't learn your lesson and respect your elders~!"
"I don't take orders from some washed up Exorcist and you're more than welcome to give it a try if you want a taste of the dirt!"
A shimmering lightsword was unsheathed and a floating cannon was primed, Real ready to scream in anger until a more composed and resigned voice interjected with, "Can you not try to antagonize and annoy our coworkers for this mission, Freed? I'd actually like to have an assignment end on a somewhat positive note for a change…"
"Y-yeah, we're all on the same side so no need to be so hostile?"
"Tch, what do you think you are, some fuckin' Angel? Who made you follow me around anyway?!"
Despite the irritated responses from both Gracia Sol and Freed Selzen they did deescalate, Lint Selzen and Mishea Silkies breathing out a mixture of both irritated and soft sighs of relief as Real strode forward, bluntly announcing, "It's time. Stop your squabbling and get ready to leave, I'll have no more blunders at this point in the game."
Lacing his hands behind his head Freed boredly replied, "Geez, about time we got sent to go kill something, I've been bored out of my mind and this brat is just asking for some discipline. Guess she doesn't know what priests are supposed to do to parentless children, does she~?"
"Freed? You're being a pedo asshole again."
"Tch. What are you supposed to be? My sister or my babysitter?"
"The line blurs more than I'd like it to."
Ignoring the eternally bickering swords for hire he instead turned to the pair of tiny UFS agents that he had threatened a USF Ministry of Defense client into deploying under the excuse of undergoing another field trial for their experimental powers and technology. At first glance they seemed more like cosplayers or pleasure workers but he'd been assured of their skill and quality.
But his true ace in this scenario was the equally small girl sitting a bit away from the quartet, expressionless emerald eyes and simply worn white hair signifying her 'graduation' from Under EDEN's latest round of mind alterations, garbed in an advanced protective bodysuit as he barked, "Tosca, do you know your mission?"
"Yes, Master Real."
Slipping on a concealing helmet the girl silently walked over to join the other four, Gracia and Mishea seeming unnerved by her while Freed and Lint barely offered a second glance, no doubt being able to guess at her origins as Real briefly lamented his sale of Yumi not long ago.
Having two survivors of the Holy Sword Project would have been quite the boon, never mind he would have denied that damn Surveyor a resource in kind. Hoestia's research 'sample' had proved to be completely worthless as the theory and techniques behind it had completely stumped his own scientists.
Hopefully Valper would know well enough to keep his damn head down because of course their relocated facility wasn't that far away from the Surveyor's location.
"Then go. You have your mission and I expect you to complete it."
Before they could argue or ask any additional questions the teleportation array was activated and in a flash of light they were gone, Real narrowing his eyes in barely contained agitation.
"Your payment is long overdue, Lute, but I will see it collected soon."
So did anyone else's email blow up as services resumed? Almost had a damn heart attack cuz I thought I'd been hit with a massive spam attack.