Chapter 5: "Dark Words for Dark Days Looming…. The Zombie Meister is Overwhelmed?!"

The prison bars felt heavy, cold, and foreboding in his hands. He studied the boy inside them with a mixture of grief, pity, and wary caution; still, he couldn't hold back his growing impatience. "Theophilius Carter," Kid's voice boomed now, reverberating with previously unrevealed authority and power, "I am addressing you. Madness has taken your mind, but I will not continue with this charade any longer. You were present on the night the mysterious murders of four DWMA students took place. You are the only witness to these events. Now, a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse is afoot between the two organizations, the DWMA and the Witches' Mass. Your knowledge, your testimony, could be all that stands between our world and war. As the orchestrator of this tenuous peace, I will not brook this insanity any longer. I need to know what happened… and you will tell me."

Kid noted with no small modicum of satisfaction Theo's eyes snapping open when he'd addressed him, the clarity that had returned to them. Watching Theo's face was like watching a derelict piece of machinery begin to miraculously hum and return to life. …Then sputter, cough, and die again. As soon as the clarity had appeared in his eyes, Theo seemed to slump back into mindlessness. He began to dig through the pockets of his overcoat and pants, becoming more and more distraught all the while. "Where…? Where is it? I need to find it; if I can't I'll be late. Late! Can't be late… can't be…." He suddenly stopped moving, his body freezing mid-motion. It was almost funny. His eyes slowly searched, then centered on Kid. He seemed to study the Reaper for a moment, before slowly drawling, "Saaaay…. Would you happen to know…? Is it…? Is it… 6 o'clock yet? You're here… is it that time? Does the company announce the time? Or does the time announce the company? Sorry, dear boy; can't chat now. Must be finding it… must be." Finishing his disjointed thoughts (Kid had lost his surety Theo had really been addressing him in the first place), he went back to his fruitless search through his pockets, patting and fingering and prying open to peer inside.

Kid sighed through his nose. This… this obsessive fascination with the time…. The reports of Anna Tenniel and Akiba Aoyama did mention it. According to the report, Theo stated that the major events that he witnessed of the days in question happened during the hour of 6 o'clock…. He seems to have found some strange irony in that; maybe the last sentient thought he had. What was it that he saw…? I read the reports; I could understand some level of post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing such apparently gruesome murders…. But the students of the DWMA aren't just some naïve coddled children. We've been exposed to so much… monstrous killings, demonic rituals, creatures the sight of which would be enough to break the minds of normal men…. What could have pushed Carter into these levels of hysteria? Kid's eyes widened in shock, and he sucked in a breath. He broke out in a cold sweat. Of course! He must have had a prolonged interaction with the perpetrator(s). If s/he or they were Witches, they could have placed some kind of spell on him… something to create an imbalance in his soul wavelength. We've seen that kind of thing in the past, with Medusa's tactics against Professor Stein. However, Kid thought, closing his eyes and reaching out with his soul perception ability, it was Joe Buttataki who sensed it last time. And, obviously, I can't rely on him for a repeat performance…. He opened his eyes and grit his teeth in frustration. My soul perception isn't picking anything up…. He considered calling Maka over, but decided against it. She shouldn't see him in this condition…. I need to spare her and Soul the worst of this. I will work under the assumption that it isn't some kind of influencing agent inside his body.

But if that's not the case…. Kid's eyes narrowed. Is it possible…? Did s/he actually… speak to Carter? Is this… this insanity… the effect of something that was told to him?

He returned his gaze to Carter, who had apparently decided to rearrange the dishes littering the dining table in his cell. His eyes were wild, and his grin was so wide and deranged it was almost unbearable to watch. He was muttering something, and Kid could just barely discern his words: "Must get ready…. Soon, yes, very soon…. She'll be here. Who? Why, Alice, you dolt! The guest of honor! She said, didn't she? She'll be coming very soon… we just have to wait. And when she gets here, everything will be perfect. Yes, yes… of course we'll have some! She'll want some, surely…. In this civilized world, there can be no guests… no visits… without a good cup of-"

"Carter," Kid said, his voice barely above a whisper, "who's Alice…?"

Theo stopped again, gave a slight jump. He shuddered, brought his hands together in front of him. When he turned to face Kid, he was wringing them so tightly his knuckles were white in jerky motions. "Death the… Kid? Yes… it's like you said. What did you say? You said something about war… didn't you? Yes. War. That's when they'll come, son of Death. They're the queens of War, the queens of the apocalypse. And they'll wipe away this piddling excuse for Order you've created in one fell swoop. Their names are faded from the annals of history; their rage and madness know no limits…. It was you and that father of yours that brought everything about… and it's you and that father of yours who will pay the dearest price. They'll devolve you and that bitch-coven into snarling, rabid hounds, and descend everything you've fought for into a blood-soaked hellscape. And the first word they breathed upon their second birth will be the last you utter before you escape their wrath into the mercy of death…."

Kid realized he had stopped breathing. Theo's sudden transformation from a vacant idiot into this… he stood tall and imposing, and his eyes were like the tip of an iron rod pulled from a blacksmith's furnace; his visage was twisted and terrible to behold, and his soul seemed to fluctuate and throb around him, steadily growing. Disturbing as it was, it was the most lucidity Kid had seen from Theo the entire interaction, and he was determined to capitalize on it. Not one person, then…. A group. Is Alice one of these… 'queens of war'? He reflected on the rest of Theo's rant, and realized there was another fact that was bothering him. "Theo… you mentioned a word…. What word is that?" He kept his voice as even and neutral as he could. Reaper or not, he found himself suddenly glad that the imposing iron bars kept a physical barrier between the two of them. If ever a human had shown capacity for becoming a Kishin, this was the prime example.

Theo breathed in through his nose and slowly exhaled a semi-visible cloud through his mouth. "Exodus." He stopped, and suddenly, the darkness that had enveloped him fell away, all at once. He shuddered again, dropping his face in his hands. When he lifted it again, he looked around, as if confused. "Wh-… where…? No…. Oh, no! What… what time is it?! Is it… is it 6 o'clock yet?!" He looked at Kid again, seemed to notice him as if for the first time. "Kid! Oh, there you are! Yes, yes, yes…. Do come in! Don't be rude, now, take off your coat! Can't wear that to the table…." He turned to the table, picked up a small cup of a liquid spoiled to the point of congealing; a swarm of flies lifted from inside it and buzzed angrily around it as he lifted it to his lips and began making sickening slurping sounds, tears streaming from his eyes. Finally, he set the cup back down and favored Kid with his trademark cheeky grin. "Almost forgot, didn't I? In this place, it's always 6 o'clock. And of course, it can't be 6 o'clock without a good cup of tea!"

Kid was burning, filled to overflowing, with questions. But… but…. Feeling both his gorge rise and a lump form in his throat simultaneously, he shook his head and turned away. There was only so much madness he could withstand. And there was nothing else to be gleaned… from the broken mind of Theophilius Carter. The rest… would have to rely on his own investigation.

Sid, upside down in midair, twisted himself into a rapid spin, the combat knife form of Nygus held outward and slashing through the air. As his momentum slowed and he fell back towards the ground, he stretched out his free hand and planted it on the earth. With a quick bend and snap of his elbow, he somersaulted laterally, righted himself with a quick half flip, and landed roughly on his feet. He took a moment to catch his breath, noting with some concern that the attack had had no effect on the swarm of birds. He barely had time to register, Weren't there more of them before…?

"Sid! Above!" came Nygus's warning, not a moment too soon. A group had splintered off from the flock, and was descending on Sid, their beaks shining and razor-sharp. They covered him, and suddenly it looked as though they formed a Sid-shaped caricature of ruffling feathers and crazed cawing. They dispersed, revealing nothing but empty air, and their cawing increased in volume, taking on an agitated quality.

Now underground, Sid huffed a sigh of weariness. "Their small bodies make knife combat highly difficult. We're at something of a disadvantage here…."

Nygus retorted, "Don't try to sound so tough, you idiot. You're wounded; it's time we started thinking of making a tactical retreat." There was no arguing this observation. Sid's body was an atlas of crisscrossing gashes, testaments of the sharpness of the crows' beaks.

Sid considered this, then shook his head. "I need to get some information out of… whatever it is."

"An opponent that uses the form of an animal to fight? Don't be ridiculous…. It's obvious that our opponent is a powerful Witch."

Sid narrowed his eyes. "In all probability, yes. But for a Witch to command this large a number of animals, so precisely…. We've never heard of a Witch with this level of combat prowess."

"It's possible, then, that this Witch is a member of Mabaa's secret execution squad," Nygus offered.

"That's certainly a possibility. But it doesn't make sense for a member of the execution squad to be lingering in this area. Their function is to eliminate threats to the treaty between the DWMA and the Mass, namely those Witches found to be in violation of the treaty's terms against engaging in combat with Weapons and Meisters. The fact is, we've never actually seen them before; they perform their function with high speed and finesse, and then waste no time in reporting back to Mabaa. On top of that, the selection process is incredibly selective, only taking on members whose strength is superior and who have unwavering loyalty to the Grand Witch. For a member to attack a DWMA official is practically unthinkable," Sid countered.

Nygus narrowed her eyes. "Even among the elite of an organization, there are those who will stray from the path, given the proper personal motivations…."

Sid sighed. The reference to Justin Law, the former Death Scythe, was a painful reminder. "That aside, we mustn't make hasty assumptions. If we strategize this fight well enough, it's possible we'll be able to confuse and anger the enemy enough to get them to divulge some information. For now, the enemy seems unable to counter the tunneling ability. We can use it to engage the enemy in guerilla warfare attacks, and-"

A black, shifting hand suddenly exploded from above Sid's head, and five "fingers" closed around it. Sid's eyes widened considerably, and he grit his teeth and grunted in pain when he felt clawed talons pierce the skin on his face and head. "Sid!" Nygus screamed. He was forcefully ripped upwards from the ground, and Sid gasped at the sight of a humanoid body, roughly 9 feet tall and composed entirely of crows. The figure stared at him with hundreds of hungry, interested eyes. The figure seemed to consider the zombie Meister for a moment, then pulled him into a crushing bear hug. Sid expected it to hold him against itself, but instead it actually pulled him inside of itself, and into a vortex of screaming, thrashing feathers and claws.

"Cover your eyes!" Nygus shouted, panicked. Sid did so, but there was so much other flesh for the crows to focus on; he couldn't help an anguished scream as he felt their beaks burrow into the meat of his shoulders, back, and legs. "Sid, you have to get out! You have to escape or you'll die! Move, Sid…. Move!"

Sid grit his teeth and tensed every muscle in his body. "Sorry, Nygus; this might hurt a little…." A brilliant aura appeared around his body, and finally he shouted, "Soul Force!" A violent outward pulse of energy exploded around Sid, and the body of crows voiced a high-pitched, anguished, and distinctly female shriek. Sid's arms dropped to his sides, and he breathed heavily, drenched in sweat. The crows around him lie motionless in a heap. Sid's knees buckled, and he started to fall forward. Nygus immediately reverted to her human form and caught Sid in her arms. "Sorry about that," Sid wheezed with a self-effacing grin. "Did I hurt you?"

Nygus shook her head. "My injuries are superficial. I'm more concerned about you. That move takes a lot out of you, doesn't it?"

Sid nodded. "It is only thanks to my repeated combat training with Black Star that I was able to develop that move… an instantaneous explosion of energy using the entire soul. It's very effective when surrounded by enemies, but it leaches off the user's life force…. Thankfully, I'll recover given sufficient time to heal. For now, though, we should try to find a way to incapacitate that thing's movements. It's unconscious, but eventually it'll be able to move again."

He stopped when he sensed Nygus tense. He saw that she was staring with a horrified expression at something behind them, and Sid turned to follow her gaze. A bulk of brown fur slowly stomped towards them; at first glance, it looked like any other bear. But the presence of an otherworldly purple light emanating from its eyes put any such notion to rest. Sid instantly placed himself between it and Nygus, and closed his hand around her arm. "Nygus…. Transform."

Nygus looked at him, incredulous. "Are you serious?! In your condition, you'll die!"

"Mira! Do as I say!" Sid's voice was like steel, and Nygus knew he would brook no further argument.

"Sid…." She lowered her head until her hair braids fell over her eyes. "Don't you dare die." That said, her body shined with white light, and transformed back into its combat knife form. Sid initiated soul resonance with Nygus, but he could feel that it was unstable, due to his earlier exertions.

The bear watched this with a detached curiosity, it seemed, then immediately roared and charged, flecks of spittle flying from its open maw and its eyes glowing menacingly.

Sid tensed, but the injuries to his body and soul proved too much for him to handle his own amplified wavelength, and he stumbled to one knee. "Sid!" Nygus shouted. "Don't fall here! You can't fall! Get up, damn you!" Sid looked down to the knife and smiled with a grimace. He looked back up; the bear was above him now, standing on its hind legs and preparing to fall forward into a crushing lunge.

A sudden brilliant flash of light, followed by the strong smell of ozone, exploded seemingly all around Sid, momentarily blinding him. He could just hear the sound of a disturbingly human scream from the bear, and when his eyes finally adjusted, he could make out its shape on the ground. There was a charred, smoking burn on the crook of where its neck met its shoulder. Sid whirled around to face his mystery savior, and his eyes widened in shock. "…You?"

He stood on a tree branch, dressed in a long hooded cloak over his normal school attire. He lifted his hand and adjusted his round sunglasses. His face was set in a determined frown. "Flawless execution. We timed that perfectly, Harver." He twirled his Weapon, a long golden spear with a stylized tip in the shape of a lightning bolt, over his head and brought it back down at the ready. Turning his gaze to Sid, he said, "Professor, please retreat to a safe distance. We'll handle it from here."

Sid was dumbfounded. "Ox Ford? What are you doing here? And what do you mean, 'we'?"

Ox tsk-ed. "Though it pains me to say it, Lord Death insisted I not travel alone. So I've brought company I know to be reliable in a pinch." Two figures, dressed in an identical manner, suddenly appeared beside Ox.

One pulled his hood back, and surveyed the scene in front of him. "Man, this is shaping up to be quite the chore…. I was looking forward to just relaxing and watching you work, teach…." Kilik Rung lifted his muscular arms, revealing two huge gauntlet shaped pots on either hand, and tapped his fists together. "But since it's come down to it… I'm not gonna hold back an inch!" The pot on his right hand belched a searing hot orange flame, and the pot on his left hand crackled with visible electrical current.

The third figure tossed her hood back with a flick of her head, and Kim Diehl looked at Sid's attackers with a dark glare. Her right arm appeared from under her cloak, revealing a rather normal-looking, if ornate, lantern. "Normally I'd never get my hands dirty, at least not for free…." Her eyes narrowed as she continued. "But anyone who'd use such despicable methods to attack someone… especially a valued member of the DWMA… can't be forgiven!"

-Hope you enjoyed the new chapter! See you next time and don't forget to let me know your thoughts! :) See you next time!-