Rated "R" for Language and Violence, etc. If thee be offended, return from whence thee came. If not, then enjoy!
The Characters and Story of Shadow Hearts belongs to Sacnoth and Midway. Gutterfiend would not recognize her transcription so don't mention it! Please note: My German is non-existent; my Italian is passable as is my French. If I messed up: SORRY! Also: like Shadow Hearts, this tale has two endings. This one is the "Good Ending".
What went before:
Within the hour, Amon landed in a small village, the quiet broken only by the patter of rain drops on the cobbles and ... singing? Curious, the fusion flew closer, finding a church with stained glass windows lit with candles. Inside voices were raised in song and the fusion listened a moment before turning darkened eyes to the deeper shadows of the basilica. A wrought iron gate tantalized the Lord of All Soul Spirits and he approached. Beyond the gate were stone steps leading down into darkness. In a moment, Amon had torn the gate from its hinges and descended into the dark catacombs just as the bells of Christmas chimed in the basilica above.
Today's Darkness, Tomorrow's Shadows
Chapter 5: Redemption
"The spectral energy is coming together. It's a – a monster" – Koudelka
The dark of the catacombs was a gentle caress for the mind of the fusion. Amon had taken up residence in the underground chambers on Christmas day, and had turned the whispering darkness into his own personal corner of Hell. The Chapel of Saint Catherine was above him but he ruled below. For the last two months, Amon had kept the light at bay, visiting the Chapel and directing his disgust at the residents of this little village on the Meuse. Their prayers incensed him. Their screams were music to his ears. Their terror delighted him. And after each successful lesson in terror, Amon would retreat to the comfort of the dark recesses where the whispers of the dead were solace and company. And the continued torture of the one who imprisoned him was his pleasure. For the fusionist was yet a matter to deal with.
Yuri was in the Graveyard, leaning wearily against the grave of Darkness. He had leaned against the marker for so long that its stony coldness had left imprints on his face and bare chest. Slowly he slid down the rough stone coming to rest on the faded grass of the marker, his cheek resting against the rune of the gravestone. His breathing was shallow and his mind numb. After a while, he fell back onto the grass, his arms and legs spread out, his iris-less eyes unfocused. The weary gray of the graveyard sky, the foggy atmosphere mirrored his inner despair and the voices that usually cried out in fear and horror echoed hollowly in his ears. The only voice he heard was Amon's.
The fusion monster whispered in his mind, telling tales of terror and despair that Yuri could not escape, indeed did not want to escape. The tales were a punishment for his blindness, his stupidity – his failure.
"Alice," like a breath he said her name, the sound a ghostly whip to his soul. "Alice."
Yuri stood beside the small stream next to the railroad tracks. He had deposited the girl on the ground at his feet and he was waiting patiently for her to awaken. When she finally did, he turned to her with a wolfish grin.
"Heh heh, pretty exciting, wasn't it? You getting all tingly ... all tingly ... all tingly ..." he voice was echoing in the darkness and he reached down to touch her body, his hands grasping her flesh in taloned claws. "Tough luck! If anyone's going to eat you it's me!"
Yuri moaned as the memory seemed to warp and twist and turn in on itself. 'It didn't happen that way, did it? No – nooo.'
"Of course it did. And you ate her, fusionist! You ate her body and soul, devouring your love with teeth and claw," a deep voice resounded in derisive laughter.
Alice was a prisoner in Kuihai Tower. Strapped into a machine that siphoned off her life force, Alice silently prayed for rescue while Dehuai, an aged, crippled warlock taunted her.
"What do you think of my Spirit Machine, little Alice? Is it not impressive?"
"Whatever you think you are doing to me, I will not cooperate with you, Dehuai," Alice stated, a slight tremor in her voice.
Dehuai chuckled, a nasty sound deep in his throat.
"We'll see how long that sassy little attitude lasts. Or do you really believe that brat will come to save you? That thrice damned, filthy Harmonixer!" Dehuai growled and turned away to a control panel. "Bear witness, lowly maggots! I shall soon show you the face of God!"
Yuri stood below them craning his neck to see onto the platform.
"Alice!" he called and sprinted up the stairs to confront Dehuai.
"Detestable Harmonixer boy! Hyuga's bastard son! This tower will be your grave!" Dehuai cursed at them.
Dehuai turned toward his machine and Alice screamed in pain as energies arced around her. Yuri climbed to the top of the stairs but Dehuai stepped in front blocking him.
"You are too late. The Mandala of Hell is opening; the Seraphic Radiance will be summoned and you can do nothing!"
"Fuck off old man!" Yuri shouted.
Yuri leapt at the ancient Earth Sage, knocking her down; he made a quick thrust with his claws, raking them across her face, piercing skin, slicing bone, then kicked her in the head sending her blonde hair cascading onto the floor, and blood spattering her delicate complexion.
"Alice? No - This isn't right!?"
"Of course it is! You destroyed her with your brute strength," the resonant voice echoed in his mind, turning his memories into jumbles of pain and confusion.
Yuri struggled to roll over and curl into a ball, pulling himself into a protective circle in his mind.
'Go away!' he pulled a coherent thought together.
The voice laughed and the echo of it rolled in his mind, mixing with the screams and cries of terror that filled the Graveyard, and Amon, his great wings open like a boastful statement, turned back to the Gate and walked into the world.
Yuri, curled next to the Grave of Darkness, did not hear him go, but did hear the soft pad of footsteps on the gravel approaching him from another direction.
"Heh-Heh, still a weakling, I see," the soft voice said and then there was the scrape of cloth against stone at the speaker sat on the stone verge next to the grave. "You can stay that way if you wish. I have time."
Yuri ignored the voice, hearing only the pain in his mind clawing its way to the surface. But the continued soft breathing was like a razor slicing through his consciousness. Finally, he relaxed from his fetal curl and looked up. The figure resolved into a familiarity in a green Japanese army coat.
"Damn; Fox Face. I thought I killed you."
The man in the Fox mask laughed, shrugging his shoulders and indicating their surroundings.
"We are in a graveyard after all. Is this not where the dead reside?"
"Ohhh," Yuri moaned. "Go away."
"Why? So you can wallow in stupidity?"
"Fuck off," Yuri said with a sigh.
Fox Face chuckled softly and rose to his feet. "Very well. I'll be around when you need me." He turned and walked down the path towards the lit gate.
"Wait," Yuri said and slowly pushed himself up to sit against the gravestone. "Why am I here?"
Fox Face stopped, his back to Yuri, and shrugged. "You lost. It's that simple."
Yuri sighed. "What does that mean? C'mon I'm too tired for this shit!"
Fox Face returned to the verge and sat down next to Yuri.
"You lost. Alice lost. We all lost. It's like a nursery rhyme. Ring-a-round the rosy."
Yuri frowned. "Don't give me that shit," he sighed.
Fox Face laughed. "You didn't have the strength to dominate the Seraphic Radiance in Shanghai. You lost half your stupid soul to that thing."
"Yeah, yeah, tell me something new."
Fox Face smiled beneath the mask. "You tried to kill your self here, in the Graveyard and Alice bargained to free you."
"She did? No! That's not what she said," Yuri sat up a little straighter, trying to focus unclear vision on the masked figure in front of him. The Fox laughed.
"Of course! She sold her soul to open the Gates that was all. She gave over herself to get access to you. But your life; your soul was still in the pot. It was up to you to save both your lives; and you fucked up!"
Yuri scowled at Fox Face, running the words over in his mind.
"I think so. But I don't know what I should have done." He paused, looking around the grey and bleak landscape that was the Graveyard. A mephitic fog was drifting in from one gate and the lights at each post were dim. "She is dead? Alice?" And at Fox Face's nod, "anyway, why am I here, now? Am I dead too?"
Fox Face chuckled again, shaking his masked head. "You soon will be. Your fusion holds your life; and your soul - because you're an idiot." He rose again, dusting off his coat and walked back down the path towards the far gate, the fog wrapping around his legs.
"It's all over but for the final chorus, boy. Do you believe in God?"
"Of course I do; I killed the sonofabitch," Yuri growled feebly.
Fox Face laughed as he passed beyond the Gate of Self and into the red sunset beyond.
Yuri remained leaning against the gravestone for a few minutes before slowly sliding down to the cold hard ground, one arm flung over his head.
'What the fuck was that all about?' he wondered as he watched the foggy grayness of the Graveyard float around him in a miasma of misery.
"You may not comprehend this place, but your heart understands it full well," intoned the Gold Mask. Yuri stood before the Four Masks, the prod of his conscience, and cursed them silently. "This world is a reflection of you; your own mind's darkness."
"Yer fulla shit," Yuri spat at the Mask, but inside he trembled with the truth gnawing at his guts. He had built this place with every tear he had shed. He had carved each stone and lintel with each breath and cry of pain. He looked around at the bleak atmosphere and breathed in his own despair. 'Yup, I made this place. I guess it's fine if I die here too.'
"She's nearly gone, all the life sucked out of her," Zhuzhen said. "Damn it Yuri, do something!" the old man knelt by the petit blonde woman's side, taking her limp hand in his, checking her pulse.
"I- I'm all right," Alice said faintly, her voice barely above a whisper. "We must stop the Invocation before all is lost ..."
"Sure," Yuri said. "But you gotta marry me first, okay?"
Halley, his hat askew from the earlier fight, turned to look at Yuri.
"What is it with you? Can't you do anything without thinking in your pants?"
Yuri turned to the child at his side.
"Who asked you, half-pint?"
Keith Valentine stood at the top of the staircase. He raised his sword, pointing at the closing door above him. "Dehuai is getting away."
And next to him, Albert Simon looked down on Yuri with a smirk.
"He has every appearance of a human, but he's a maleficent monster fit only for killing."
"Shut up you!" Yuri shouted.
Yuri realized he had moved. He was sitting up against the gravestone of Darkness, a chain looped around his neck and chest kept him bound to the stone; his right arm was extended, bound by heavy fetters to the small white grave next to him.
"Your fates were bound, boy."
"Oh shut up, Fox Face!" Yuri said with a growl.
"Fox Face?" The voice behind him laughed softly. "That's a first. Are you calling me after that silly mask you wear?"
Puzzled, Yuri craned his neck, pulling against the chain to see who stood behind him.
"F-father? - But how?"
The older man smiled and stepped down to the verge, taking the place that earlier had been occupied by Yuri's nemesis.
"I've always been here, son; since the beginning. I've watched you fight your demons. And I watched you fail." Ben Hyuga tilted his head to the side and watched his son from lowered eyes. "Why is that, Yuri? Did I not teach you enough to win?"
"I dunno, Dad. I don't remember so good –"
"Yes, I suppose you were young."
Yuri strained against the chain but was unable to loosen the bonds.
"You'll be here like that for a long time, son. He will make sure of it."
"Amon, Master of Destruction. Even now he runs amok in the world, bringing pain and suffering to innocents. While you ... your pain is not over yet, I'm afraid."
"W-what do you mean, Dad?"
The elder Hyuga shrugged. "He is intent on revenge; something he held in common with the magus Simon. But you are not Koudelka; nor is this a Soul Contract. He is your fusion and you ... were too weak when you fused." Ben sighed. "I cannot give you more answers, son. You must figure these things out on your own. I guarded you while I could; but now ..." he stood with a shrug and made to leave once more.
Ben Hyuga walked silently down the path past the mausoleum and the laughing masks.
"It's there, Yuri. You have to find it," he said and passed through the gate.
Yuri rose from the floor, the pain receding as the voice and its power faded. He slowly stood, shaking his head, wiping blood from his nose; it seemed the more fusion souls he had the more the voice hurt him.
"It's been a while since I've heard that damn voice!" he grumbled.
"She's watching over us," Alice said. "Did I tell you I heard you at the graves?" she asked.
"You were so brave in adversity; but you also were filled with repentance. Do you still feel that way, Yuri?"
"What the fuck are you talking about, Alice? We've got to stop Dehuai?"
Yuri looked at the little exorcist who, instead of her usual short blue ensemble, was dressed in radiant white.
"You already did," she said.
Yuri hesitated, his mind working on what Alice was saying.
"Oh. So that means ... that means it's time for me to die, right? Like Dad?" he asked.
"You already did," she answered.
"Oh." Yuri looked around the strange house that sat along the western Welsh shore. The wind was blowing in from the ocean, bringing with it the tang of salt and the cries of sea gulls.
"And I brought you back," Alice finished.
Yuri smiled. "Then we must be getting married, right? You said 'yes'."
Alice smiled. "And so I did."
"Then shall we?"
Yuri took her arm and lead Alice down the aisle; their friends waiting in the seats of the small chapel. Alice was dressed in a beautiful white gown, short skirted of course! And a veil of delicate lace was held in place by a small tiara. She looked exquisite to Yuri's eyes and he could hardly contain himself as the pastor read out the old words of the wedding, binding them forever. And as Roger Bacon intoned the words, "You may kiss the bride," Yuri raised the veil and bent down to kiss his lovely bride, her rotting, decaying lips pulled back in a rictus of death, the stench of the grave a delicate perfume from her desiccated bosom and the maggots of her teeth crawled into Yuri's mouth as his mouth covered hers and his tongue explored the rank sweetness of death that was her mouth.
Behind them Roger Bacon laughed and smiled and announced to the assemblage: "Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Yuri and Alice Hyuga, husband and corpse."
Their friends cheered, and the echo of their happy voices crashed into Yuri's ears, bringing him back.
Yuri slumped against the gravestone, pain and revulsion warring in his mind for dominance. A movement caught his feeble attention and he watched Amon stride toward the mausoleum, the cackling of the four masks a backdrop to Yuri's anguish.
Margarete returned to France in early February. She was met with the problem of getting two very suspicious people through German occupied territory without being shot. Ever innovative, she obtained an old lorry and some beaten up farm equipment from Aix-en-Provence just out of Marseille. The equipment she put in the back of the truck and then, with both herself and the young priest in farmer's attire, began the long drive north.
"Let's go, Padre," Margarete said with a smile.
The young man shook his head. "You know Maggie, I am NOT a priest, I'm a Gregorian monk, trained in spiritual combat. I do wish you would stop that." His words were mitigated by the infectious smile he wore.
Margarete laughed. "Oh ho! I know. But you have to admit when French Intelligence makes a mistake, they make a doozy." Margarete was referring to her orders from Headquarters. "Respond to Rome; return with priest skilled in White Magicks."
"What they should have said was 'charlatan', that would have been closer, Nikki."
Nicholas looked across at the blond spy, his mouth pulled into a smirk. "You know, if I hadn't been listening to that garbage all the way from Rome, I would think you were serious. How ever did your friends put up with you all the way from China?"
"Ah, ah-hah! I loved teasing Yuri. He was such a patsy," she sighed, remembering that same Yuri was missing. "I hope you can meet him someday. He's a real heart-breaker."
Nikki looked askance at Margarete as she quickly maneuvered the lorry down the muddy road.
"Rompe il vostro cuore?" 
Margarete shook her head. "Mind your own business, exorcist!"
"Ah, well at least you got the job description right this time," Nikki said softly.
They continued their cross country drive north through Grenoble, where they stopped for supplies and news of the war.
"Oui, it has been terrible," the old store owner muttered. "The Hun he attack the hospital ship, you know the one? The Asturias? Sunk it down in God's blue ocean. Killed everyone – doctors, nurses, everyone!"
Margarete gritted her teeth at this news and wishing she had been around to do something, anything to prevent it ... not that she could!
"And just this week the German army has attacked and taken Marie Therese in Argonne; and I think Ban-de-Sapt as well."
"Then that means they are moving again. Forcing the trench line further west?"
"Mai oui, unfortunately. You must be careful, ne's pas – you and your husband?"
Margarete actually blushed beneath the grime on her face. "Uhm – yes, we must. Merci, monsieur."
Leaving the little shop, Margarete resumed driving, sending the antique truck careening up the road at a mad pace.
"Shouldn't we maybe slow down?" Nicholas asked, holding on to the door for dear life.
"No time. We've got to get through to Lorraine and up another hundred miles before nightfall."
Margarete sighed. "There's something I need to do; and with the German's mobilizing, pushing the western front that much further, we now have added danger getting your exorcist ass, handsome as it may be, up to Neufchâteau."
Nicholas didn't respond but his mouth quirked a smile. He had yet to understand Margarete, his lovely if brash escort. She had met him in Rome, showing up at the shop in which he was employed and whisked him off to France. He knew she had been coming; or at least that someone would be arriving from France sometime that week; the Vatican had sent notification along with his travel papers. It did not ease his mind to realize he was being taken to France, to the Basilica of Saint Catherine, to exorcise a demon.
By the time they reached Besançon they were tired and disgusted with the conditions of the muddy, packed roads.
"I wish we could have entered from Italy," Nikki said with a sigh. "It might have been easier."
"Oh yeah, sure," grumbled Margarete. "Climb the bloody Italian Alps, somehow get through the German artillery bunkers set along the line; yeah, really good idea, priest."
Nicholas sighed. "Well, I never said I was a strategist. That's what you're here for, yes?" the blond man turned a quirky grin on the frustrated spy driving the truck. "By the way, have I told you how lovely you look in dung brown?"
Margarete turned sharp eyes onto the exorcist, his own 'dung brown' attire just as repulsive as her own. "You –" She laughed then, realizing his intent. "Funny. Remind me to write the Pope with a letter of recommendation when this is all over."
Nikki's eyebrows rose into his bangs. "Realmente? Fareste quello? Come genere!?" 
Margarete scowled at the young man a moment before she realized he was serious. She shook her head and drove on, part of her mind on the road ahead, the mission at hand and another part remembering another white mage whose death she had not reconciled: Alice Elliot.
"Nikki ..." she hesitated before plunging ahead, "Nikki I have to stop in Strasbourg. There's something I left there that might help. I dunno. I had a feeling when I read the report is all."
Margarete shrugged as she maneuvered the old truck past a disabled horse cart left abandoned along the road.
"I don't know. Maybe nothing. But I have to stop and again I remind you, Nikki, speak German or French, not Italian!"
Nikki blushed, a becoming color with his pale blonde complexion. "Scusi."
At Epinal they pulled over, Nikki taking the wheel of the truck.
"You go on ahead and I'll catch up with you. And Nikki ... be careful."
The young exorcist smiled. "I will." He engaged the clutch on the old lorry and pulled ahead leaving Margarete on the road to Strasbourg while he continued toward Neufchâteau and Domrémy just beyond.
Yuri was digging his own grave; he knew it but didn't see any point of concern. With each swing of the old hoe he dug a little deeper, a little wider. Soon the grave would be deep enough for him to lie down in. Concentrating on his digging he did not hear the soft voice whisper behind him.
"Yuri? What are you doing?"
It was his mom's voice.
"I'm helping dad, you know that. I'm a good boy; I help any way I can."
His mother, a tall willowy figure in green dress and white blouse stepped closer, a restraining hand stopping his digging.
"Is this how you were taught to dig a garden?" she asked. Then a slight frown creased her brow. "And did you finish your lessons first? I want you to be educated, even if we do live in the middle of nowhere."
"Ah mom," Yuri said with a sigh, stopping long enough to wipe sweat from his brow. "I'll study later. I gotta help dad."
"I am glad you do. Just remember Yuri: the seeds you plant today you will harvest in the hereafter."
Yuri turned puzzled eyes onto the diminutive woman. "Huh?"
Alice shook her head. "Will you stop – please?" she finally shouted.
"Heh-heh, Alice? I didn't see you there."
Alice sighed. "Will you stop this nonsense? You're not helping your father; you're digging a grave. And it's not necessary. You're not dead."
"Oh, but he will be," a deeper voice said from behind the tree and Alice looked up to see a stranger emerge. As tall as Yuri the figure wore an old green Japanese army coat but the face was a mask: a disfigured, malformed mask with a nasty slit of a mouth and eyes in the wrong place, one open the other a mere slit.
Alice shuddered looking at the foul mask. "Who are you? And what do you want?"
"You may call me Atman," the masked figure said. "And I already have what I want."
"Dad," Yuri said oblivious to the exchange, "is this deep enough?"
"We've had this conversation before," Alice said with confusion in her blue eyes.
"No, you only think you have," Atman replied. Then turning to Yuri he said, "Dig deeper, stupid!"
Yuri nodded and began digging again.
"Stop! Yuri!" Alice shouted, and Yuri stopped digging once more and turned toward her.
"Yes?" he asked, puzzled. "What do you want?"
"I want your heart's blood, fool," Alice said softly and grabbing the hoe from Yuri, struck him across the face, sending him crashing into the dirt.
"No!" he groaned as blood spurted from the vicious gash in his cheek. "No -" he stood and snatched the hoe from Alice. "It didn't happen this way!"
Yuri moaned in protest as a sharp pain pierced his chest. Blurry eyes tried to focus on the dark figure looming over him but came to rest on the glowing red eye mere inches from his own. Yuri tried to pull back only to come up against the gravestone and he realized he was still in the Graveyard. A deep chuckle rumbled from beneath the eye and then Amon came into focus, his tongue licking red blood from his dark lips.
"Your soul's blood, Harmonixer - better than elixir!"
Yuri looked down to see the deep gouge where Amon's claws had punctured him, scoring along his flesh and pulling blood vessels to the surface and slicing through; each beat of his heart sent a pulse of blood coursing down his scared chest.
"What is yer fucking problem, demon?" Yuri managed to growl.
Amon reached out, his gigantic hand grasping Yuri's face, his talons piercing the skin like razors.
"Still fighting, little fusionist?" the demon laughed. "Good. Prolong your suffering; it is delicious." Amon thrust Yuri's head back against the gravestone and lumbered away.
Yuri leaned against the chains yet binding him to the Darkness gravestone, feeling the bite of the links on his flesh.
'He's playin' with me,' he thought. 'But why? I'm already condemned to Hell. Or is this my Hell?'
He can't bear the dark fate of a Harmonixer," Fox Face said, kicking dirt at Yuri.
Alice ran up the slope to intervene between the masked man and Yuri. "Stop it! Please!"
Fox Face snarled, offering a fist to Alice. "Do you want some of this too? I hate that whiney crap!"
"Yuri please," the young exorcist begged, turning deep blue eyes onto her friend. "It doesn't have to be like this. Don't grieve!" Alice reached out and tugged hard on Yuri's shoulder, trying to pull him back from the hole he was digging. "You can still make a difference."
Yuri paused in his grave digging; he wiped sweat from his brow and glanced up at Fox Face. He frowned.
"Yeah. You said that before. If I lose, if I collapse or spit blood ... it doesn't matter, 'cause I'm still alive. I'll will always get up and fight again."
The gray of the Graveyard weighed on him like stone. Yuri, pulling against the chains, could not get free. The echoing screeches of despair and pain that were the constant background chorus were like the wailing of a banshee. Yuri sighed.
"I know yer there. Come out, why don't ya?" he said softly.
Fox Face approached from the mausoleum, stopping at the grassy verge by Yuri's stone. Yuri looked up at the masked face and could swear he was smiling.
"Share the joke?" he asked wearily.
"The joke will be on us if you do not succeed."
Yuri attempted a half-hearted scowl. "Cryptic as always. Can't ya just say what you mean?"
Fox Face sat on the verge, turning toward Yuri. He reached up and gently wiped blood from Yuri's face.
"Your time is almost done. He has sucked what he can from you; if you cannot defeat him now ..." he paused significantly.
Yuri snorted. "If I wasn't strong enough before, what makes ya think I can do it now?"
Fox Face shook his head. He reached up and removed the mask, revealing Yuri's own face.
"Not alone; but with help."
Fox Face/Yuri chuckled. "Not hardly. Just remember: ask for help."
Yuri blinked, taken aback by the statement. It sharply reminded him of his attempt to capture the Seraphic Radiance; he had called for help and Fox Face answered. At the time he had no idea who or what the fox masked figure was; the physical manifestation of Yuri's own soul.
"Are you saying you'll help?"
Fox Face/Yuri shook his head. "Didn't I just say I would not?"
Yuri felt a trickle of anger rise in him. "Then what the fuck use are ya?"
Fox Face/Yuri shook his head. "God but you're dense sometimes." He stood and, taking up the fox mask, crushed it with his hands, letting the pieces rain down onto the verge.
Yuri didn't know what to say. He watched as Fox Face slowly walked toward the opposite hill where the stones for Light and Wind rested. The runes in each were glowing; he hadn't noticed that before, so he craned his neck, pulling away from the Darkness gravestone; it too glowed.
"So what is this all about?"
Fox Face/Yuri shrugged. "He's coming. Remember what I said." He stepped up onto the opposite verge and stood next to the gravestones. He placed his hand on the Light grave marker and began to fade, becoming translucent then vanished.
"Oh, right. Pull a disappearing act on me," Yuri grumbled. But when he noticed the disturbance at the Main gate he felt fear grip his guts, his heart beating heavily in his chest. "Oh shit."
Amon stepped through from the World, his black scaled armor gleaming in the gray light of the Graveyard. His armor was stained crimson and Yuri shuddered, knowing that someone or something had died not long ago at Amon's hands. He watched in trepidation as the giant fusion monster stepped up onto the grass beside him and squatted down. Face to face with the fusion, Yuri felt very small.
With one hand Amon sliced through the chains binding Yuri to the grave makers, while his other hand picked him up by the neck, pulling Yuri up to his face, breathing fetid breath on the weak fusionist. Then, with a wicked laugh, he began to pull Yuri into his body; inch by agonizing inch the harmonixer was encompassed by the fusion and Yuri began to scream, fear and agony ripping out of him in gut-wrenching shrieks and a cry for help!
Nikki pulled the ancient lorry into the alley behind the hotel. He had arrived well after midnight and expected to only get a few hours of needed sleep before tackling the demon problem. He left the lorry and checked into the hotel and ordering a hot bath. Whatever he might think of Margarete's idea of transportation, she had managed to get him to Domrémy safely. Now if she would get back from Strasbourg he would feel much better about this.
A knocking at his door woke him before sunrise. The innkeeper was speaking so quickly that Nikki had difficulty following what he said. But he nodded and waived the man off as he pulled on his clothes; the clean white clothes he wore while working for the Vatican. Once downstairs he saw what was happening. Several locals had gathered in the inn common room, the children tearful and the men angry.
"What has happened?" he asked the innkeeper once he located the elder man amongst the crowd.
"A demon, monsieur prêtre; attacked and killed soldiers in the chapel. These found the remains this very hour. If there is anything you can do?" the man looked at Nikki expectantly.
Nicholas nodded. "I was going there this morning. I will leave now, if someone will show me the way?"
"Oui, monsieur. Immédiatement." The innkeeper rushed away only to return a moment later with a young man. "Michele will take you, monsieur."
Nicholas nodded to the boy and they left the inn. Outside was still dark, dawn yet half an hour off, and stars still shown in the night sky. The rain had let up some time in the night and the temperatures had dropped considerably. Nicholas shivered as Michele led him at a brisk walk to the basilica.
The basilica was a beautiful if somewhat gothic structure. Built in the center of town on the site of the original Chapel of Saint Catherine, the basilica marked the sacred space used by the Maid of Orléans when she resided in Domrémy. To the residents of the little town it was a holy place; to Nicholas it represented a job.
Once at the main doors the boy, Michele, fled back to his family. But Nicholas climbed the stone steps, surveying the ancient gray structure, putting his mind into discipline to face whatever nightmares resided in this church. Inside all was quiet; the main isle leading to the altar was dark except for the candle of the Presence Lamp. A few cautious steps brought him into the main chapel and a floor covered in sticky blood!
Nicholas stepped back, summoning a light which hovered mere inches from his outstretched palm. It was sufficient to see the river of blood coating the stone floor and the bodies lined up neatly along the pews.
"Now who would kill and then lay out the dead?" he asked himself softly.
"I laid them out, Mein Herr," another voice spoke from the darkness. "You will not move or I will shoot you. Identify yourself."
With the light hovering before him Nicholas could not place the voice. "I am Nicholas, sent by the Vatican to exorcise this holy place. And you?"
From the transept behind him came soft steps and he turned to see a tall woman, with striking red hair, step out of the shadows; in her hand was a pistol and she wore the distinctive green of the German army.
"Ah, you must be part of the advance the Germans sent. These are your men? What happened here?"
"Yes, I am their commander. Lieutenant Koenig. And they were killed by the demon; the one you are supposed to banish?"
Nicholas nodded. "Please, put the gun away. I am not armed." The lieutenant stared at the ball of light, a pointed statement. "Well, I mean you no harm at any rate."
The lieutenant snorted and put away her pistol. "I was just thinking before you arrived. My superior told me that here, in Domrémy, in 1915, we have seen a demon which has turned a church into a stronghold. You came alone?"
Nicholas began the long walk down the main isle, avoiding the spilled and congealing blood.
"Yes and no; my escort is behind me. She should be here later this morning, I hope."
"So. And do you think, Herr Nicholas," Koenig said following behind the young blond man, "that you can take on this monster by yourself?"
Nicholas stopped at the altar, offering a silent prayer to the Presence, and then going around behind the altar.
"I don't know. Are you a believer, by chance?"
The lieutenant snorted. "Not hardly. But as is said, there are no atheists in trenches."
Nicholas turned at those words and smiled. "Yes, that is true." He reached beneath the altar and offered Koenig the object. "Put this on. It won't hurt and it may well help."
Koenig looked down at an antique crucifix. Hesitantly she put it around her neck. "Do you think this is all right?"
Nicholas smiled again as he reemerged from behind the altar. "God listens; even to atheists," he said with a laugh. "And in this business, there are no non-believers."
Lieutenant Koenig raised one delicate eyebrow, but followed again as Nicholas returned to the main entrance, pausing to look both east and west along the transept. That's when he felt it; the sudden chill; the frisson of fear and anxiety that suddenly worked its way up his spine.
"Look out!" he shouted, pulling Koenig behind a pillar.
Down the transept at the western alter, the rosary window suddenly shattered, sending stained glass crashing to the stone floor. A gigantic winged figure, at first only a shadow, thudded to the ground, crushing the glass beneath its feet. Nicholas spun a ball of light and sent it up to the ceiling, illuminating the transept.
"My God!" he shouted. The creature stood over six feet tall, its wingspan was at least 12 feet across and its armored hide was caked with dried blood. A long, sharp, razor talon was on its left arm with sharp claws extending from even longer fingers; to Nicholas, this visage was from the bowels of hell. In the next instant the creature leapt at their concealed place and Nicholas, grabbing Koenig by the arm, propelled them both out the door of the church. At the top step he turned to initiate a spell, casting a magical blessing on the creature as it crashed through the door.
Koenig had pulled her pistol again and was unloading the clip into the creature's chest but the bullets just bounced off.
"Mein Gott! How do we kill this Verdammt thing?"
Nicholas watched as the magic washed over the creature with little effect.
"Leutnant! We must work together if we are to defeat this monster!"
"Fine! Damn bullets anyway!" the lieutenant was shaking as she put away her pistol from the combination of adrenaline and fear. "What do you suggest?"
"You're fire class, Lieutenant? Can you use your fire magic with my light?"
Koenig thought a moment. "I have a better idea," she said pulling her pistol out once more. "Use your magicks on my bullets!"
Nicholas nodded with a smile and did just that, blessing the gun and its contents to do the maximum damage to a dark creature of the pits. He also prayed it would work as Kallen began to empty her clip at the monster.
Yuri realized he was seeing the world through ruby eyes. He felt himself, but he was disoriented. He watched as he left the catacombs beneath the basilica and climbed the stairs into the pre-dawn light. He felt his wings flex, his legs bunching to assist the leap into the chilly air and, with a strong down stroke of his wings, he flew up to the church rooftop. That was when he realized he was fused as Amon and that Amon was in control.
'This must be what it's like for them,' he thought. 'How strange.'
A moment of flight and he landed on the roof, his head looking toward the east and the nacreous sunrise. Below him, inside the church, he heard human voices and felt a presence; a sense of magicks. He smiled a toothy grin that bared blood-stained fangs. This would be fun. He stepped to the edge of the building and, spreading his leathery wings once more, leapt into the window, shattering glass onto the floor below.
When he landed he looked around, his eyes spotting the light energy above him and the source of that light; a man with Light magicks. Oh yes, he would feed well tonight.
Yuri could hear the fusion's thoughts as if they were his own. And realizing that he was about to kill yet again, Yuri panicked.
'No, you can't!' he thought, reaching out with his mind, trying to regain control of Amon. But the fusion shrugged him off as he pursued the humans out to the courtyard where the Light Mage struck at him with a feeble attack. 'I will sup, and you will watch; and each scream I dedicate to you; each howl of anguish I offer to you as payment for my imprisonment,' Amon's thoughts washed over Yuri's mind.
'Nooooo,' if Yuri could moan he would have. He went over in his mind all he had learned about fusions; that he, as harmonixer and fusionist was required to dominate them; that he had to have the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength to fight and control their awesome forces. That was why he had spent so much time in preparation before attempting the more dangerous fusions; including Amon. But before, he had been stronger. Before, he had faced God and destroyed him. Before, he had companions to rely on.
'Alice,' he thought. 'Before, I had Alice. Before I killed her, she was my strength, my solace; my life and reason for living.' And the last moments of her life came back to him, slamming into his mind.
They had been in Rouen, and then later caught a train to Paris. Margarete had always delighted in telling the duo about her hometown, but words could not describe the City of Lights. Yuri had seen big cities, both Shanghai and London, but not even Shanghai could compare. They had walked down the west bank, looking at artists stalls, buying fruit and giggling like two lovesick children. Everyone knew they were in love; it was written in every look, every gesture that the two made. They finally stopped in at Notre Dame Cathedral and Yuri sat in a back pew watching as Alice stepped up for Communion and silent prayer. He may not have understood half of what she experienced when she prayed, but he understood the look in her eyes when she did so. A light shone brightly in her eyes, like twin stars pulsing with the light of her faith and Yuri was tempted to feel a little jealous before he remembered that this was part of what she was, part of what he loved about her.
And then the train ride toward Switzerland and the nightmare of her death. They had a small compartment on the right side of the train; it allowed them to watch the countryside, to bask in the remaining sunlight and kiss sweetly once Yuri had pinned her to the seat. Yuri remembered those sweet, brief kisses; Alice's lips so small and soft, her breath sweet and as tantalizing as the gentle rise of her bosom or the long expanse of her legs. And he had let her die. He had slept peacefully while she breathed her last and...
Yuri could no longer stand the thoughts that washed over his memory. Although Amon was using his body to fight the Light Mage and his army companion, Yuri could feel tears begin to glisten in the fusion's eyes; his eyes.
'I am so sorry, Alice. I could not save you from the Masks; or from my own ignorance. God if I could, I would change it. Please forgive me,' he thought.
Amon, facing the duo in the courtyard, pulled up suddenly and turned and fled back inside the church. Puzzled, Nicholas and the young lieutenant followed.
"Why did it run? We weren't making a dent!" Koenig asked, and indeed they had not. Nicholas's white magic did little to harm the Lord of Destruction and Koenig's bullets, blessed and sanctified though they had been, only annoyed him.
At the doorway Nicholas paused, scanning the dim church interior. "I don't know. But you've done well. If we could just find some combination of our magicks, something to actually hurt the creature, I think it might make a difference."
"Possibly; and call me Kallen." Kallen holstered her gun and pulled her small sword. "Perhaps I should try this instead. I'm a fair hand at a sword and can use the fire ..." she offered.
Nicholas nodded. "Let's see what drove this thing into the dark, shall we?" he asked and led the way inside.
Amon was hunkered down in the main chapel, his wings flung out but his knees nearly touching the bloody floor. He swayed from side to side, his head flung up, gaping maw of a mouth open as if to speak. Kallen and Nicholas paused behind the creature, unsure if the thing was preparing another attack or finally admitting defeat. Inside, Yuri's memories returned, painful and intact; each wrong turn, each wrong decision was illumined in his mind and brought a renewal of agony to the fusionist. Further, it paralyzed the fusion as he tried to resist the will of the fusionist. Behind him he could hear the soft footsteps of Kallen and Nicholas as they approached and their whispered voices as they discussed a quick strategy.
Above him the vault of the church was growing brighter as the sun arced its way above the horizon, shredding the veil of the night and offering up instead a pink and golden salute to day. As the light grew, it made its way down the vault to stop at the cross suspended above the altar. And the light on the cross caught Yuri's attention, Amon's attention, and that of the two behind him as well. The cross seemed to glow from an inner light, and Nicholas and Kallen watched in amazement as the corona of light seemed to detach from the cross and step onto the church floor, taking shape.
Yuri hesitated in the flood of his memories, his heart reaching out to his beloved, the one he had failed and, seeing the wash of brilliance ahead of him, he cried; cried at the memory of Alice's white light. And suddenly Amon was fighting again, struggling to control the fusion; he turned to attack the two humans but stopped when the brilliant light washed over his dark hide.
Amon turned his dark visage at the voice, a scowl like a slash crossing his brow. With a roar of defiance he cast dark magicks at the light, but it was reflected back, passing him and causing Kallen and Nicholas to throw themselves onto the floor to avoid being hit.
Yuri fought against Amon, using his memories to strengthen his resolve, to try to save himself and the people behind him in the church. The light beneath the cross continued to increase until it was blinding and Yuri could swear someone or something was standing inside the light. From the bright light a figure slowly formed, a hand reaching out toward the struggling fusion, fingers tipped with white light, a sword raised high in her hands. He blinked, crimson eyes shifting to ebony, piercing the veil of light, seeing the figure with wings floating …
'Alice...' Yuri's thoughts were a jumble as sight, sound and emotions warred within. 'Alice, I'm sorry. I am so sorry ...' his thoughts revolved around her life, her death, their love and their promise. 'The day you die, I'll die too,' Yuri remembered. 'Forgive me …'
*Yuri, I believe in you …*
Yuri reached within himself, grasping the final bit of strength he had, his love for Alice. If that was not enough, then Amon would win and kill everyone. Behind him the exorcist Nicholas had pulled Kallen out of the line of fire and was working to form a new spell, one that would cut through the distracted demon even as Kallen ignited her sword, fire spilling down the bloodline.
*Live for me, Yuri…*
Amon felt the incursion of strength and will that the young fusionist was employing; he struggled against it in the only way he could. He turned and let loose with devastating dark magicks at the crouching pair behind him. At the same time, entering from the front doors was Margarete. Startled at the scene before her, she pulled her shotgun and began to unload into the monster.
*Fight for me…*
Amon hesitated a moment at the new onslaught, giving Nicholas and Kallen a chance to move and begin their own attack. Meanwhile Yuri heard the voice, and felt the power of the light radiating behind him and whispered, 'Alice, I love you.' He felt a sudden renewal of his strength, in body and mind, and he reached out with his will and touched Amon, piercing the fusion monster's resistance and capturing its soul.
Yuri found himself back in the Graveyard, the gray fog curling around his feet. A sound caught his attention and he looked beyond the strand with the grave markers of Darkness and Alice Elliot. At the entrance to the mausoleum stood Amon, his wings spread wide as if to take flight. With a growl Yuri launched himself from the Gateway and pounded down the path to confront both Amon and the masks.
"Will you fight all of us, boy?" cackled the Sword Mask as it turned on its axis.
"Fuck off! Amon! You're mine!"
The fusion monster leapt to meet Yuri half way, the two colliding with a thud at the base of the mausoleum steps. Yuri felt the impact of the fusion monster as it hit him, pushing him backwards and onto the ground. With one leg he swept the monster aside and jumped up, claws to the ready and jabbed with first his right then his left, grazing the creature's right arm as it went by. Amon growled at the contact.
Yuri spun quickly to face Amon as he turned and swept his left arm at the fusionist, the razor extending from wrist to elbow on the fusion monster grazing Yuri's chest, slicing open his shirt and the skin beneath but missing vital organs. Yuri offered a lop-sided grin at the fusion and flicked his fingers, offering a 'come on' to the monster. Amon responded with a leap, wings unfurled and sharp claws ready to rake and puncture the human, but Yuri wasn't there. He jumped back, his speed increasing as he turned the jump into a somersault that landed him back by the Gate of Self. He reached out and snagged up a stone from the verge and, hefting it experimentally, leapt closer, bashing Amon on the side of his head, laughing at the unexpected nature of it and Amon's momentary confusion. In passing the monster, Yuri ran his Nightbird Claws along the creature's back, slicing into its wings, shredding the tendons and veins. Amon howled in pain and turned to assault Yuri. But Yuri kept moving, spinning around even as Amon turned to confront him, and slipped under his foe's arms, coming up inside his guard and punching with his right fist, sending the claw deep into Amon's unprotected belly.
Amon moved back, a look of startled pain and confusion on its dark face, black ichor bubbling from his gut.
Yuri smiled at the fusion and gestured before stepping up to grasp the creature's bladed left arm. The Graveyard spun out of control momentarily and Yuri felt himself slipping away; the familiar feeling of returning to the real world.
*Bring light to the world…*
'Sorry Amon. But you lose … again,' the harmonixer thought and pulled the soul of Amon into his own darkness and bound it. Suddenly the fusion was released and, in a blur of light, the monster was replaced by a thin, haggard man who promptly collapsed to the floor.
"Yuri!" shouted Margarete. "Oh my God, Yuri!"
Margarete ran down the isle, pausing only long enough to smile at Nicholas before flinging herself to her knees at Yuri's side. Yuri was unmoving but breathing and Margarete pulled him up onto her lap, touching his face and checking his pulse.
"That is your friend, Yuri, Margarete?" Nicholas asked.
"God, yes! He's been missing since late last year," she said as she offered tentative strokes along his forehead, partly in comfort and partly to be sure he was real. "I didn't know if he was alive …"
"I'm alive," Yuri muttered from her lap and opened iris-less black eyes to stare blearily at the beautiful spy. "Good to see you, Maggie."
Margarete quickly pulled him to her, embracing him. "Ah-ahha, sonny boy, don't ever scare me like that again." She felt Yuri's faint laugh. With a faint sigh she hugged him close for a moment. "I'm sorry, Yuri. I am so sorry about Alice," she said softly.
"I know – me too," he said, voice muffled. "Uhm," he said with a sigh. "Soft; nice."
Margarete looked down at the young fusionist, his face resting against her cleavage and merely laughed, just glad to have found him alive. "Some day you'll have to explain all this to me," she said and looked up at the cross above the altar; its luminescence was passing and it looked like more and more like a plain brass cross. "But not today. And I have something of yours." She indicated the satchel back by the main entrance.
"Could I get one of you to bring that here, please?"
Nicholas nodded distractedly, but fetched the satchel, one eye on Margarete and the injured man and another on the altar. There was something ...
Nicholas returned and set the satchel at Margarete's feet and Margarete opened the satchel and handed Yuri his Nightbird claws.
"Ahh, thank goodness. I thought I'd lost them," he said weakly, pulling away from Margarete to take the claws in his hands.
"And Alice's book is here too. Oh! And this," she offered the amulet.
Yuri took the talisman in hand and looked at the red and cracked stone. "Hmm, can tell I lost it, huh?" He looked up toward the altar and the remembered light figure that had offered him strength. "Atman. The Masks. Yeah, we got unfinished business."
Nicholas was still looking up at the altar, the glow of light crystallizing into rainbow shards.
"Did anyone else see the ... the ..." he hesitated.
"What?" Kallen asked.
Yuri looked up at the altar and the bronze cross, the light slowly fading from it as the sun moved higher up in the sky. For a moment he saw the light tracery, like lace, a pair of wings; a sword of light held high –
"Yes. Yes," he said softly and Margarete frowned at him then caught her breath as she watched his eyes change, first from coal black, then to amber and finally to deep crimson red.
"What will you do now, kiddo?"
Yuri sighed. "Rest first," he said with a crooked grin. "Then food, please; I'm starved!"
Margarete laughed. "I warn you, Nicholas, this kid has a bottomless gullet! Two hollow legs!"
Yuri smiled at the remembered phrases that Margarete was fond of using when it came to his stomach. "And then, - I don't know, maybe help these people. I assume you came looking for trouble?"
Nicholas smiled. "And found it. But it looks like we've also found a companion. I do have work in this area, and I would like the lieutenant –
"Kallen, remember?" the young woman interrupted.
Nicholas nodded. "Kallen to join me. She has potential; and I like her style. She's too good for the German army anyway."
Kallen looked startled, then nodded. "I have had my own revelation it seems," she said softly. "I cannot continue in this war the way I am. I don't know myself anymore. Too many killings," and she looked at the bodies yet lining the church pews.
Nicholas nodded his understanding. "So, will you travel with us?" he asked Yuri.
"If you will have me. I have a debt to pay," Yuri said and looked up at the cross, the memory of the light and winged being he saw, the angel. "Alice," he whispered. "My angel wants me to fight, and bring light to the world. Then fight I will. And God help anyone who gets in my way."
 "Did he break your heart?"
 "Really? You would do that? How kind!"