The train leaving for Zurich was waiting on the tracks, steam billowing out from beneath its wheels and onto the platform. Yuri Hyuga and Alice Elliot were rushing along the platform to catch that train, Alice waving to the conductor while Yuri carried their one small satchel and took care of the tickets. Alice Elliot was a small young woman in her early twenties with ice-blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Her companion was a twenty-four year old Eurasian with sloppy brown hair falling into his oddly amber eyes. Once aboard, Yuri stowed their bag and took the window seat, indicating Alice should sit next to him. At first she demurred, but with a lopsided grin, Yuri patted his lap, which got a giggle from Alice.
"Come on, sit here why don't you?" he asked with accented English.
"Ah," Alice chuckled and then took her seat next to him, refusing the more intimate seating arrangement Yuri would have preferred.
"How long to Switzerland? Yuri asked once the train began to move.
"Oh, a few hours. We will have plenty of time to sleep. I don't know about you but I am tired."
"Yup, me too. You sleep next to me, I'll watch out for both of us," he said while suppressing a yawn.
Alice chuckled again. "Why don't we both sleep; no one will bother us here."
After a few minutes, Alice looked sleepily up at Yuri. "I wired Mother from London. She's looking forward to meeting you, Yuri."
Yuri yawned a cavernous yawn. "Yeah, me too," he said just as sleep over took him.
Alice smiled softly and joined her fiancé in sleep.
The hours slipped by and Alice's head lolled against his shoulder. Yuri, just awakening, turned to check on her. They had dozed off shortly after leaving Rouen, France and the fatigue of the last few days combined with the partying to say goodbye to their departing friends had left both needing a long nap, and the gentle rocking of the train on its tracks had acted as a soft lullaby, sending both into dreamless sleep. Yuri gently shook Alice's shoulder, knowing instantly that something was seriously wrong. Alice slid back to lie against the seat back. He shook her a bit more firmly and then checked the pulse at her throat. A weight settled into his chest as he realized that she was gone, dead.
"No!" he moaned and tears flooded his amber eyes as he turned in the seat and pulled her into his arms, his throat constricting with grief.
"No, Alice, please," he groaned and buried his head into her chest.
While they were fighting in the Float, Yuri had noticed that Alice was having a difficult time keeping up. He attributed it to the incessant attacks by the demented monsters as he had noticed Zhuzhen and Margarete looking a little worse for wear as well. He believed her when she said she was all right; he believed because he trusted her, but something nagged at him, something he wanted to ask, but he shook it off to deal with once this mess was cleaned up. Once he had defeated Albert permanently and taken out that damned god from space thingy. When he could finally tell her he loved her and ask her ...
Yuri shook his head at these thoughts, refusing to dwell on the past. The past ~~ all he had now were memories of the past. He gently rocked in the seat with Alice in his arms, her scent still in his breathing like a spring meadow. How could he have failed her? He felt the pressure in his chest building again as a new wave of tears cascaded down his cheeks.
"What did I not do, Alice? What did I fail to do? Please, tell me ~~"
The battle against Hate was fraught with danger; the slug-like creature attacked with darkness and hate, a perilous combination that left most of the combatants close to death more than once. Afterwards, Alice had collapsed for the second time, and Yuri had run to her side but Margarete, who had beaten him there, waved him off.
"...The time ..." Alice had panted.
"Time? What about the time?" Yuri had asked, confused.
"It's nothing; I think I'm just tired," Alice had said with a faint voice. "I just feel short of breath..."
Margaret nodded toward the waiting passage. "I'll stay with her; we'll follow in a minute."
"Okay, I got it," Yuri said hesitantly. "I'll be waiting."
How could he not have known? Why did Alice not tell him; she confessed to Margarete, that was obvious. But not to him. Had he not proven how much he loved her? Had he not promised to protect her beyond life itself? How could she not tell him?!
Yuri's trials were just beginning. He had turned over Alice's lifeless body to the Swiss authorities and been promptly arrested. However, the Zurich criminal courts quickly realized that the young man, although acting suspiciously, was not guilty of murder. With neither marks of violence nor reports of arguments obtained from the train authorities gave enough evidence to hold him over. Yuri Hyuga was released.
Unsure what to do or where to go, Yuri wandered the streets of Zurich until he came to a small church down by the Limmat River. For no other reason than that Alice was fond of churches he entered and sat down in a pew. The church was quiet, with a series of small votive candles flickering along one aisle and another red candle above the altar. Yuri stared at the flickering candle, remembering his visit to Rouen with Alice. It had been the first time he had stepped foot in a Christian church and he was ignorant of the different items around the altar. Alice pointed out the small red candle, telling him that when it was lit it indicated the presence of Jesus in the form of the host. Yuri had puzzled over that until Father Doyle had entered and driven all thoughts of candles and Jesus from his mind. Now he remembered that day and the light of passion that had filled Alice's eyes whenever she prayed.
He looked down at his hands, rough, calloused hands displaying still healing cuts and swelling from his combat against the God of the Outer Reaches. Alice had offered to heal these minor abrasions, but Yuri had insisted they heal naturally, letting the scars remind him to occasionally duck. A smile wormed its way across his lips, only to fall into a frown as tears once more slid down his cheeks.
"Why? I just don' understand!" he muttered quietly.
'I did everything I could! When those damn masks yanked me back to the Graveyard and told me Alice had bargained her life and soul for mine, ... grrr, I could have killed them. Of course, that was impossible. They were already dead. They flaunted their power over me, telling me if the Malice continued to build, they would come. So I cleared the Malice - constantly,' Yuri let his thoughts ramble back to that day.
They were in Rouen France, having arrived late the night before. Taking rooms at the inn, Yuri had fallen dead asleep. However, no sooner had he closed his eyes but he was forced awake. In the Graveyard. With a sigh he walked down the long path leading to the mausoleum and the waiting Masks.
The four Masks had been his bane for years, visiting his dreams, nay nightmares if truth be told, since he was ten. They were four, these Masks: Sword, Staff, Gold and Grail and each represented an aspect of himself. Sword Mask represented his violent desires, the Staff Mask his desire to be lazy, and the Gold Mask represented his greed while the Grail Mask was his worldly pleasures.
The Sword Mask had spoken first, chiding him for wanting to return to life; as if the stupid mask had not known that already!
"I see you chose to live again in hell."
Then the Staff Mask had added his unwanted opinion, calling him a fool for escaping death and continuing to suffer life. Yuri told them off with his usual bravado, but then the other masks spoke those fateful words.
"You should be thankful to that little girl! For she has taken upon herself the burden of your karma. To save your soul from the God of Death, this girl offered her soul to us! And when Malice reaches its peak we will come for the girl's soul. No matter where she runs, her life will eventually burn out. Even if she's within your very arms."
Yuri had become furious, kicking the ground in front of the mausoleum in frustration. "I won't let you lay a finger on her!"
"No matter how hard you try to protect her, you will fail. All you can do is sit helplessly by and watch this precious life depart."
With bravado Yuri had screamed at the masks, his fists clenched. "You want some of me? I'll take you all on!" But the masks merely laughed, sending Yuri on his way, with no answer to his challenge. When he awoke, he went to check on Alice only to find her gone to the church.
And clear the Malice he had, noting that whenever Alice was with him his Malice built incredibly fast, forcing him into dealing with it or forcing him to have Alice wait in the background so he could catch his breath from fighting both the creatures they faced and the dead souls in the Graveyard. Ultimately, the frustration was eating him alive and when they took a break at the ruined monastery of Nemeton, he told her he would not let anything happen to her or he too would be dead. He remembered Alice's shock at his words and he told her briefly of his own mother's murder, and how destitute it had made him feel. Looking back at that conversation Yuri grinned sardonically.
"I lied, Alice. Damn me, but I lied. I couldn't stop what was to come anymore than I could stop Albert from raising that damned float." Yuri sighed and looked up at the vigil lamp once more, pondering what he should do. "I promised I would protect you and I failed. I promised I would die if you died ..." his voiced trailed off.
'But I don't want those bastard Masks to win,' he thought. 'I want to know what I did wrong. I want to kill those bastards before I leave here for good.' Yuri rose and strode from the church, turning his steps along the riverbank. 'It all went wrong after Nemeton.'
He understood how Albert Simon felt, in a sad way. Simon had been a brilliant scholar, but his personal sympathies had led him to be in opposition to the church. In a time of absolutism, anyone who called for the granting of rights to individual citizens could do nothing but anger the powers that be. Simon had been his own worst enemy, bringing to the Vatican's attention his own disaffection. After his release from imprisonment, Simon had pursued the dangerous course of black magical studies that led him down esoteric paths toward dark secrets and forbidden magicks. However, Yuri and his companions still entered the ruins of the Nemeton Monastery in search of Simon and Koudelka. As soon as they stepped foot into the lower ruins however, the battles began and Yuri fought like a man possessed. Every so often, he was forced to step aside and go to the Graveyard to remove the accumulated Malice, but he would return in a moment more determined than ever to reach Simon before he could do anything with the captive witch, Koudelka. Alice remained silent regarding Yuri's near furious pace, but closely watched as his Malice talisman turned blood red more and more quickly, causing her to bite her lower lip more than once.
'I should tell him,' she thought more than once, but then another fight would ensue and Alice let it slide. 'We'll have time. We'll stop Albert Simon here and then we can deal with it.'
But it would not be that easy. Simon was waiting for them at the top of the Nemeton basement.
The Limmat River flowed gently down to Lake Zurich, its deep blue waters a contrast to the forest greens and city greys that surrounded it. Yuri had walked for hours, step after step taking him further away from the city and its inherent memories. Alice had talked about her home several times on their trip through Asia and Europe, regaling him with stories of Switzerland's history. Yuri, acting the gentleman, had listened but not understood half of what she said; just listening to her voice was enough. He thought her voice was cute, just like her name and her face.
Yuri shook his head, readjusting his small satchel in his grip and looking around.
"Where the hell-?"
He found himself at the shore of Lake Zurich, the hustle and bustle of the city behind him and the fulgent waters in front of him. With a shrug, he sat down. He stared at the waters until the flashes of brilliance from the sun on the water made his eyes hurt, then he pulled open the satchel. Inside were the few belongings he and Alice had owned. On top was her Book of the Flesh, a holy book covered in white with several small jewels embedded in the cover. Yuri flipped open its pages and perused the Latin within. Alice had read some of the passages to him, and of course, he had heard her mutter the concomitant spells, but still he could not read and understand what was within. He closed the book.
Beneath the tome were his Nightbird claws, deep black talons given him by Roger Bacon. They had been a blessing against the Mad God called up by Albert Simon. As he reached in yet again he pulled his hand back suddenly, blood smearing his cut fingers. Something within the bag had cut his hand.
The stairs to the top of the Nemeton basement were shrouded in darkness but once at the top, ensconced torches lit the area. Red-haired Koudelka stood in the shadows to the left while Albert Simon waited in the center. He wore his usual cynical smile.
"I was certain you would come, Yuri. This will be our big finale, and you will finally achieve closure," Albert said. "I stole the Codex of Lurie from the Vatican. It tells how to summon the "Other God," which I am now attempting! An omnipotent god from the far reaches of space shall descend upon earth to cleanse us!"
"I can't let you do that!" Yuri said his fists clenched. "You can't hurt others just so you can play this game of misplaced vengeance!"
"Yuri," Albert said, "you still haven't figured it out? That in order to begin anew. we must first wipe the slate clean."
"Shuddap you old fool! My father worked hard to protect this world! I'm not letting a deluded scheme take it all away!" Yuri stepped forward, confronting Albert, but Simon raised his arm, a powerful aura of energy crackling in his hand, and a second later, a bolt of lightening arced across the space and struck Yuri, sending him crashing to his knees.
"You - You're a lunatic," Yuri panted. "This stops now!"
The battle had begun, with Albert Simon summoning a spell that severely wounded the three but Alice cast a healing spell and Yuri used a powerful new Light Class Fusion that Alice had not seen before. He sent pulsing energies at Simon again and again, leaving the healing to Alice and other occasional attacks to young Halley. Finally, Simon seemed to give up, his own bid at a psychological victory ending as well when the young fusionist defeated the creature he had summoned and merged with, Amon.
However, the victory was pyrrhic as they had hoped to prevent the raising of the Float, the ancient machine that could summon a god. But they were fooled, and Simon's defeat was actually his victory as the ancient mechanism began to awaken, its shudders and groans sending shockwaves through the very earth itself as it rose slowly from the ocean floor. Outside the clear sky began to cloud over, lightening and thunder crashing as a torrential downpour began as the Float rose from the sea, its tethers holding to earth's mantle only briefly before the cables snapped and the great temple-like machine rose high into the sky. Yuri and his companions had quickly fled back through the basement of the monastery only to reach the grasslands beyond in time to witness the machines rising and Simon's cackling ultimatum.
"God shall bestow a new future upon the world despoiled by human corruption. From the distant reaches of space and time, descend now upon this earth! Seven days from now, god shall descend to Earth. You can wave your fists all you want, it will change absolutely nothing!"
Seven days, that was all they had to prepare to face the ultimate conflict. Yuri helped the elder Roger Bacon to finish experiments on a teleportation device so that they could get to the Float, now in low orbit around the earth, and the others did whatever preparations they felt they needed as well. Alice had stayed close by and gathered what supplies she felt they would need. At one point, she had pulled some shards from his satchel. He wondered at it briefly, remembering he had put a cup inside the small case, but that same satchel had been smashed against the wall when Simon had nearly electrocuted him.
Sitting now at the shore of Lake Zurich, Yuri reached in to the satchel and pulled out two glass shards. They were wrapped in paper but the sharp edges had sliced the wrapping and left it in tatters. A smear of blood ran down one of the shards and Yuri rubbed it off with his thumb, revealing a swirl of lettering cut off by the break. He squinted slightly trying to make out the words, now latticed with feathery cracks.
'...beat the Four...?' he read silently. "What the-?" Yuri turned the second piece around, checking for lettering only to find that it too was cracked and feathered. Only a small phrase remained. '...my oath is to ...'
"Those damned bastards," Yuri muttered beginning to grind his teeth. "Those dirty sons of bitches! All along ... what was I supposed to do?!"
Angry, he made to fling the shards into the lake, but a more lucid thought occurred to him and he instead re-wrapped the pieces in the tattered paper and put them in his pocket.
The woods crowded close beyond the lake, forming a dark canopy. The dim light suited Yuri's mood, as he took occasional swipes at offending branches and shrubbery.  He had left Zurich as the sun had begun its last hours before sinking below the horizon, the smells of cookery setting his stomach to rumbling, but the thought of food sickened him. He was running away again, running from Zurich, running from memories of Alice, running from pain just as he had run from the pain of his mother's death. As the last vestiges of sunlight filtered through the trees, Yuri flung himself into a hollow, the bare roots of a nearby oak tree pushing though the hillside and offering shelter or a hanging place to those so disposed.
He lie on his back staring up into the now dark forest, his eyes adjusting to the night and his ears automatically tuning to hear any approaching sounds, his survival instincts kicking in regardless of his emotions. The darkness brought night roaming insects out to wander the trees, while a few small animals, rodents mainly, scurried from their lairs in search of food. Yuri heard them but ignored them. For a brief moment, he considered the possibility of a monster coming upon him in his hollow, but then dismissed it out of hand. If a monster wanted him, let it try. He had other prey on his mind.
His prey this night was the past. Over a year had passed since he met Alice on the Changchun Express. Kidnapping her from Bacon was what he had jokingly thought of it, kidnapping his woman. His woman. Yuri's woman. Making his claim against an unfeeling universe. Yuri sighed, letting his mind slowly repeat those early painful steps; that night in the rice fields, waiting for the sluice to empty, later in Fengtian. He had admired her pluck in lasting out the night crossing the plains, fighting the demon cats of Zhaoyang Village, and then walking all the way to Fengtian.
'Yup, that's when it happened, I guess,' he thought. 'I just didn't have the balls to tell her.'
Fengtian. That is where they ran into Margarete. Gun toting, bomb throwing Ms. Spy Genius. Yuri had thought she was a few cards short of a deck, but that hadn't stopped him from trusting her to fly them to safety. Well, almost. Fortunately, the plane went down near Dalian and they could float to safety, but that still left them stranded with a drowned Li Li, a sick Alice and an irascible Taoist Adept. Yuri mentally sighed.
'Nope, not the easiest night of my life, but we saved Alice and that's what counted.'
Getting to Shanghai was a nightmare. Yuri was seasick. Margarete was unsympathetic, writing some nonsense in her journal. Yuri doubted it, but was too sick to care. Zhuzhen was no better, telling him to go die somewhere else, and Yuri had no idea what the two smugglers were on about, locked in the pilot house. And of course, the drowned Li Li, again.
'Hmph, that night ranks with the worst of the lot. Not since ...' he shuddered, remembering a night from his distant past. 'Nope, not goin' there.' Yuri picked up a small rock from the dirt and lobbed it into the air, striking a persistent bat that had been flitting above his head.
Shanghai. Home of Dehuai. Home to secrets.
'Zhuzhen's dirty little secrets,' Yuri thought. 'Keeping things from me about my dad; about everything. I shoulda killed him that day,' he mused.
"He woulda deserved it, old fool! But then you wouldn'ta been there at the end, eh? To kill Dehuai; to see me with shit on my face. To fight against god." He reached up and scratched his head, stretching slightly.
'Yeah, first we went to Wuhan, where that bastard Dehuai kidnapped Alice, and then back to Shanghai. At least I got to kill that prick Wugui, but Alice ...'
Alice was bound into a spirit machine built by Dehuai. It was designed to drain her life force and provide him energy to perform the Demon's Gate Invocation. At least that is what he kept preaching. But when they got there, Zhuzhen, Margarete and Yuri, Dehuai was waiting and spouting some garbage about a Reverse Invocation. Yuri, never one for patience, had sprung to the attack, putting Dehuai to rout. However, the damage had been done and the machine was powered. Dehuai was waiting for them on the roof, the Mandala of Hell already drawn. They battled once more, this time defeating Dehuai permanently.
'You'd think it would be easy, eh?' Yuri mused. 'Shit. Not in my life-time! Dehuai dies but Bacon shows up, finishes the job and the damn Seraphic Radiance comes out of wherever.' Yuri sighed, remembering too clearly his abortive attempt at fusion with that monster.
"I shoulda died that night. I didn't. I guess it was Fate. But where was Fate later on when Alice ...?"
Yuri listened intently for a moment as a sound carried from a short distance away. There was a scurry in the brush, a flutter of wings, then the abruptly cut off shriek of something dying.
"Yup, owls are hunting tonight," he said softly, suppressing a yawn. "Got his dinner."
Blue Castle in Bistritz; that was his next memory. Actually, Alice showing up in his nightmares, and somehow making her way into the Graveyard. He never understood how she could do that. Alice herself admitted ignorance but Yuri thought that maybe it was her power.
'She was like an angel in those days. I could hardly look at her when she used her Light magicks, she glowed so brightly.'
He had been mortally embarrassed at Alice having to rescue his sorry ass from the Graveyard, but Alice had been gracious, saying she merely wanted to see him and travel with him again. As if going into the darkness of his mind was a day trip to the park! But that was Alice, gracious consideration; he had never heard her say a cross word to him even when he richly deserved it. He had teased her unmercifully their first couple of days together and she had done nothing more than stamp her foot.
Yuri smiled into the dark, remembering how Alice would straighten her shoulders when she was peeved. She would stand perfectly straight, her short dress revealing a refreshing length of leg and forcing Yuri to bite his tongue more than once to control his own responses. Until she pulled him out of his death wish in the Graveyard, he had no idea she really liked him. Tolerated him, yes. But liked him? The thought warmed him and his smile was joined by a sigh.
"Perky butt," he whispered to the listening forest. "I always liked your ass. That's one of the reasons I didn't mind standin' behind ya," and he chuckled.
Rouen was where he had found out about Alice's bargain with the Masks. They had laid their curse on her and then flaunted it at him. How he wanted to strike back at them! But he could not. Not yet. Then they had moved on to London England where they had met Halley. The street urchin was an annoyance but Yuri soon realized that he wore a similar coat and took the kid into his heart. They tried to rescue his mother from the Calios Mental Hospital, but Bacon had showed up and put paid to that idea.
'Actually, that's when we found out he was really some guy named Simon,' Yuri thought. 'Always going around, using his teacher's name to cause trouble. And that's when I got that cup, from Joshua.'
Yuri sat up and pulled the small satchel to him, opening it in the dark. He pulled out the paper wrapped pieces he had placed on top and lie back once more, fingering the shards.
"'Beat the Four', it said," he muttered aloud. "But how? The other piece only says something about an oath. I never read the damn thing. The whole way to Wales and I never read the damn thing! Stupid!"
They had fought the warlock Albert Simon in Nemeton, and again in the floating Temple. And, ultimately they had fought and defeated god. But the whole time Yuri had fretted over the accumulating Malice, the threat that the Masks would come for her if he didn't clear the accumulation.
'Yeah, they made a big point of that,' he thought with a deep sigh. Fatigue was winning a slow battle with him, and the now the silent darkness was an anesthetic to his nerves, sending him into sleep.
In the crepuscular light of pre-dawn, Yuri suddenly sat up, looking around in alarm. There was only the dark shadow of the oak tree above him.
"I fell asleep?" He scanned the still dark hollow then stood up, shaking leaves and bugs from his coat and stretching out tight, stiff muscles.
'What woke me, I wonder?' he thought as he put the shards back into the satchel and pulled out his gloves and claws. Then he heard it, the sound that had alerted him in his sleep: the howl of wolves and human screams. Without a second thought, he was leaping over the tree root and running toward the sound.
After a few moments of running, he could see the road ahead, the dark gloom of the forest broken by the flicker of torch light. As Yuri broke out onto the road, he saw a small cart up-ended with a family trying desperately to defend themselves against a pack of wolves. The father had obviously tried using the torch, but it had been knocked away, so he was now reaching into the cart for an antique rifle, while his wife swung a broom at the wolves attempting to get at her two children, one of whom was holding a baby. The whole time the children were screaming in terror and the mother was shouting at the wolves, which merely growled and glared at them with hungry eyes.
Yuri leapt onto the back of the closest wolf, punching his claws into the beasts' neck and pulling back, decapitating it. As it went down, he rolled off and quickly scanned the area for the other wolves. Two more were coming from the forest while the family at the cart had three additional wolves harrying them, the father trying vainly to load his old rifle.
"Utsu!" Yuri shouted at the man, knowing that he would not understand, but hoping the man would get the idea. But the man fumbled the gun, swinging the butt around to whack at a wolf attempting to grab his nearby child.
'Damn!' Yuri thought as he turned to meet the approaching wolves. With a quick punch he distracted one of the wolves long enough to swing his long legs out and kick the second wolf, causing both wolves to forget the family and now engage him. Both wolves turned snarling vicious jaw at Yuri, one jumping to bite at his arms while the other attacked his legs. Yuri kicked out again, catching the wolf in the chest, but it barely slowed down. However, the one jumping on him got a surprise as Yuri grabbed its scruff, pulling its head to the side and stabbing down with his Nightbird claws, burying the sharp metal claws into the beast's neck, hitting the jugular. When he removed his fist from the wolf's neck, Yuri was bathed in blood before throwing the now mortally wounded beast toward the one on the ground, using it as a battering ram to fend off the leg-biter.
Taking a moment to check on the family, Yuri saw the man once more raising his rifle and Yuri remembered the words he had often heard spoken by Margarete. He hoped they were the right ones!
"Alors! Décharge!" he shouted. Seconds later the gun went off and another wolf went down, injured but not dead.
Yuri could then turn to his current attacker and, throwing the now dead wolf away, he kicked the remaining wolf in the neck before burying his claws in its chest, giving the hand a good twist for luck. The wolf was dead as it hit the ground. Yuri then turned to assist the family in killing the remaining two wolves. They were both attacking the children while the mother swung at them with the remains of a broom handle, but Yuri could see what she could not. One of the wolves had grabbed the youngest child, merely a baby, and was turning to carry it away!
"Ah, shit!" he cursed and left the remaining wolf for the adults to deal with, knowing if he did not pursue the escaping wolf that the baby would be finished. Deeper into the forest it went, leaping over partially exposed tree roots and growling, the whole while the baby screaming for its life, with Yuri running to cut off its escape. They met in a small clearing, the wolf on one side, Yuri on the other, but it quickly became apparent that the wolf was not alone.
Yuri felt a prickle on the nape of his neck and he heard an earth- deep growl from behind him. He felt hot, fetid breath wash over him just as he leapt aside. Landing on the spot he had just vacated was a giant demon wolf standing nearly as tall as Yuri, its eyes chatoyant red in the early dawn light. Yuri cursed profusely at his own stupidity; somehow, he had to save the baby and kill this devil beast at the same time.
"It's never easy," he muttered, taking a few steps to his right toward the wolf with the baby. "Don't you be movin' now you little bastard," he said through gritted teeth. The wolf continued to growl, head held low and eyes watching both the demon wolf and Yuri. Yuri took another short step, angling himself for a quick dive, but the wolf was nervous at the movement and sidled closer to the demon wolf.
Yuri cursed again and removed one of his claws, gripping it by the finger holes. As he took aim, he was grinding his teeth, praying to whatever god would listen. He then threw the claws, and in that same moment the wolf turned to flee; but although Yuri had aimed at the upper torso of the wolf, the claws now met the flank and the wolf dropped the baby as it continued to flee. Yuri was instantly running for the child, his remaining claw raised to defend himself, but the wolf fled, leaving Yuri and the baby alone with the demon wolf.
Yuri stood his ground, the baby now between his feet. With only one claw left, he stood little chance of defeating the hellhound, but that would not stop him from trying another way. The huge beast now stood, head lowered and jaws slathering in anticipation. Yuri did a quick mental perusal of his fusion souls, picking one he hoped would make this a short fight, then quickly scooped up the baby and sprinted for the nearest tree. Immediately the beast was on his heals, a long-nailed paw raking across his back before Yuri could reach the tree. He staggered but pushed the final few feet until he could leap up and deposit the child in the crotch of the tree. Then he turned to face the devil wolf.
Yuri scowled at the black furred monster. He usually had time to take a hit from the creatures to figure out what they could do if he had not encountered their like before, but with the baby ensconced in the tree behind him and him already sporting claw scars down his back, he did not want to take time to be efficient with the beast. Instead, he called on his fusion soul, Inferno. Instantly he felt his body expanding, growing taller, more muscular and a second set of arms growing from his torso. His eyesight sharpened to near painfulness and his weight and strength doubled.
'Yes,' he thought as he glared at the sanguine-eyed devil wolf. 'I've got you.'
He concentrated on the power of his magic and it welled up in him like a geyser, pouring forth in a searing fireball that exploded over the wolf and scorched not only the beast but the nearby forest floor as well. The giant wolf howled in pain but shook it off however, and leapt at the transformed fusionist, attempting to catch him in its maw. Yuri jumped aside and when the beasts head was in range, used the power of all four of his arms to slam his fists into the beast repeatedly. The wolf staggered, giving Yuri the chance to move back a few paces so that when the wolf turned to attack once more, he was able to bath it again in fire. The giant wolf went down on its front legs and Yuri jumped in to pound two large fists into its head, crushing its skull and killing it. He stepped back, surveying the kill and the clearing. He was alone.
With a mental sigh, Yuri released the power of his fusion, returning to his normal human self. He quickly skirted the remains of the demon wolf and retrieved the wailing baby from the tree.
"Hey, hey, little guy," Yuri said, chucking the little one under his chin. "It's okay now. We go find your daddy."
The family was still at the cart, the father luckily dispatching the last wolf. The mother was carefully checking over her other two children but when Yuri returned with the baby all thoughts of her other offspring were forgotten in a tear-filled reunion. Yuri gladly returned the child to his mother and quietly accepted the fathers' handshakes and demonstrations of thanks. Yuri understood not a word of the German but figured the man was grateful from the beaming smile.
"Yeah, I know. Yer welcome," Yuri said with a smile.
Yuri watched as the family quickly righted their cart and with the baby safely ensconced in his mothers arms, they continued down the road, the early morning sun now dotting the roadway. Shaking his head, Yuri then turned back into the woods to locate the injured wolf and his missing Nightbird claw.
He found the claw and the dead wolf a few hundred yards from the clearing. Bending down to retrieve the claw, he winced, remembering the lacerations he had received from the giant wolf.
'Damn, I left the thera in the satchel,' he mentally moaned and kicked the dead wolf for good measure. "Stupid beast."
He found his satchel where he had left it, tipped over under the exposed oak roots. He pulled out a thera root and, munching on the chewy plant, proceeded to take off his trench coat. He eyed the damage with critical eyes, thought that perhaps he could fix the damage and pulled the small packet of needle and thread from the very bottom of the satchel. Doing so reminded him of the times Alice had patched some rent on her own clothing or made a quick repair of Zhuzhen's highly decorated robes. Her fine delicate fingers would thread the needle and repair the damage faster than Yuri could ever manage. He chuckled to himself as he began to stitch. There had been that one rainy day outside of Rouen when Zhuzhen had tripped and torn his robe. Margarete had been clowning around with Keith and, not noticing, sent Zhuzhen into the mud, tearing his finery. Alice had repaired the rent while Zhuzhen let Margarete have a piece of his mind ~ in Chinese.
'God I miss you, Alice,' he thought. 'You brought purpose to my life with the need to protect you. Without you, my purpose is missing.'
He stitched silently for a few minutes, doing a tolerable job on the repair. The whole time he was sewing, he played over in his mind the battle with the wolves. He was surprised that a family with children would be traveling on the road at that hour, the dangers of bandits and animal attacks would keep most people at home. Nevertheless, the father and mother had traveled in spite of the danger.
'Alice had been that way too,' he thought. 'Always ready to do what needed to be done, never mind the cost. She did that for me. Taking on my karma; because she trusted me. She needed me.'
"Hell, she loved me. At such a cost," Yuri sighed. 'That father and mother would have given their lives for their kids.' He looked down at the torn trench coat. "I paid a price too, just not the same one."
He finished the repairs and put away his belongings. He donned his coat once more, but before leaving the hollow, he sat beneath the oak root. He waited only a few moments to gather his thoughts, then closed his eyes, silently willing the transfer from this world to the next.
The Graveyard was a receptacle of mystery, malice and torture. Yuri was standing at the entrance, scanning the desolation that had haunted his sleeping and waking nightmares. This place was his hell. He paused briefly to visit the large gravestone with the emblem of Darkness carved within, and the small white grave next to it.
Rest in peace, Alice Elliot.
Yuri found he was grinding his teeth so he shook his shoulders, trying to shake loose the building tension. This is what it was all about, his coming here now. When he turned away from the lonely grave, a dark gleam twinkled in Yuri's eyes as he scanned the path to the mausoleum and the waiting Masks.
"Yep, it's payback time," he grumbled to himself then followed the path to the mausoleum.
"So you have returned, boy," the Gold mask said. "Have you come to clear the malice?"
"Go stuff yerself!" Yuri growled.
"Ah-ha-ha-ha," the Sword mask laughed, turning about. "Have you finally found courage in that trembling heart of yours, detestable Harmonixer?"
"You'll wish I hadn't, you stupid mask. I don't wanna hear yer crap!" Yuri said with a raised fist.
The four masks laughed maliciously, sending chills down Yuri's back.
"Laugh all you want, you bastards, but I came here ta say somethin' and I'm gonna say it, so listen up!" Yuri pinned each mask with a cold stare that made each pause in their laughing gyrations.
"That's right, shuddup! Listen, you bastards have had me at yer beck and call since the beginning, threatening, hurting. But no more. You can't hurt me anymore. You took from me the only thing I had in this whole damn world, you killed Alice; you took her soul from her. She traded her soul to you bastards in exchange for me, and you killed her."
Yuri stood straight and tall on the steps before the masks, his eyes blazing.
"So here is my payment for your kindness. Every monster I kill, every demon I send to the Graveyard, is another one of your brethren that died at my MY hands. And I won't stop. I won't stop until I've killed as many of you as I can. For every life your kind takes, for every person your kind hurts, I'll kill ten of you; no, a hundred. You won't get me. No matter how long it takes, you will NEVER get me!"
The silence in the Graveyard was deafening. The four masks remained still, watching as Yuri turned and walked away, his steps taking him once more to the little white gravestone. Yuri knelt at the grave, pondering it for a moment before standing and caressing it briefly.
"Wo Ai Ni, Alice. I love you, and I will always fight - for you."
The smell of coffee and croissants was redolent and he wished he had time for breakfast, but it was mid morning by the time Yuri got back to Zurich. He stopped at the plaza for directions then ran for Rue Strasbourg. The house he was looking for was old but well maintained, it's exterior done in dark brown and cream, with flowers in the garden. Yuri approached the door and knocked. After a few moments, an older woman answered.
"Yes, may I help you?" she asked in German.
"I am sorry, I do not speak the German," Yuri said in heavily accented English. "I am looking for Reverend Misses Elliot; Alice's mum."
"I am Mrs. Elliot. And you are?" Mrs. Elliot answered in English.
"I am Yuri Hyuga, Alice's fiancé. I would like to talk to you about Alice."
 Thanks to Nights Mistress for this delightful mental image introduced in her story, Yuri, the Forgotten Years.