Nefas of the Abyss
The livid red sky overshadowed the earth with an omen of calamity. Dark clouds painted the tainted blood red canvas and blotted the view of the cosmos; were it night or dawn, no man of the earth could say for sure. The harsh winds churned the desolate lands and drew a haze of ashes, blanketing the man who lay with a visage of death to befit his bearings. The grounded man opened his eyes to a world alien to his recollections. As he struggled to his battered feet with a hacking cough, the man began an instinctive stroll to a destination whose significance he could only ponder.
And after a brief trek upon the empty lands, his deliverers appeared before his jaded hazel eyes under the herald of a whirlwind of ash and bone from under the dead earth. The cloaked figures who stood ahead would have had nothing to distinguish themselves from a fray of shadows were it not for the sight of their exposed sickly faces. Were this a dream, the afterlife, or a very message from a God, soon he would know. Even here, he had no fear, for in death, he had already peered.
One, seven, fourteen... The man bode his time counting these visitants in wait of an answer. Among these beings, the woman in front caught his particular interest—nay, not with the elegance of her posture, but with the black text which reeked of an anarchic presence. At this, the man could only stroke his rough beard.
The figure in the center, the presumed master of this world, released an arm from her book and raised a chiseled finger in the man's direction. "To the woman who stands before us in spirit, we request an audience," came her quivering response. In tandem, the ground caved just beside the bearded man's feet to reveal the face of an identical book. With nigh inhuman haste, the man kneeled and unearthed the book with his bare hands to flip through its pages before coming to a pause. The nature of what he had read could only be discerned by his frozen expression.
Regaining his focus after a period of silence, the man rose to his feet and tossed the book aside with naught a shift in his mellow expression. "This moment is one I had awaited for some time; but I must ask, what am I to you?" he questioned.
But the questioned figure would not answer in speech, and the flip of a page from her book signaled a gruesome end. In a single instant, the very earth enshrouded the bearded man in a casing of dirt before a single word of protest could be uttered from him. "This vessel is no longer needed," spoke the figure responsible. "We eagerly await our meeting in person, Nefas of the Abyss." The tearing of flesh from bone from within the prison exuded a ghastly noise, and the crumbling of said prison released a deathly stench from the bones left in its wake. At this, the figure simply grinned from ear to ear.
Only the quiet sound of her blood dripping to the ground kept her awake in absolute darkness. She raised a single hand to wipe the blood from her mouth and stood with what meager strength she had. Leaning on a wall of stone, she proceeded to violently hack up blood before raising her head. With a moment of ponder, she took a bated breath and called out to the ruins upon which she dwelled.
Her voice, however faint it was, brought new life to the slumbering ruins, and the innumerable, lingering wisps of Animae Casi all lit up at once to reveal its splendor. The blond-haired woman stood upon a spire of a rocky pillar in the center of a massive space as the only remaining soul intact in this lost metropolis—a once proud city whose remains told a tell of forgotten origins. For so long had the woman's blood-red eyes remained closed that even the inscriptions on the stone monolith which she rested upon seemed like a novelty—a novelty which she would yet pay little heed in her desire to see the world she had so adamantly isolated herself from with her own eyes and a fresh perspective.
The Nefas of the Abyss, she had been called—such to replace the name even she could not recall. In the ruins she had dwelled since ancient times, looming and thriving from the perspectives of those whose minds succumbed to her profound influence; only few entities knew of her existence. Why, then, had "they" called out to her true from?
The Nefas of the Abyss had hidden herself from the world long before the prosperity of the legendary first Nefas collective came to an end, but through the power she had obtained, she could continue to observe history unfold and satiate her thirst for knowledge—the knowledge to rend the laws of a reality she loathed as an endless nightmare as much as she could before her own tenuous body betrayed her. But even with her success, some questions yet remained, and the reclusive woman had found some futility in using mere vessels to uncover the meaning of the covert organization responsible to the assassination of her brother, the revered founder Glacies. It was clear that a more daring approach would be necessary. She had never particularly cared much for the brother she considered overly idealistic, but the circumstances of his death were undoubtedly among the greatest of mysteries in Nefas lore, with such an elusive truth that the inquisitive woman could not help but seek out by any means necessary. The time had come unravel these cowardly conspirators, and whether a hero or a menace she would then be named, she could not have cared less.
Centuries of punishment from the pain and suffering of her puppets had taken its toll; alas, in her frail state, there was little she could do in her own body, and any small error would undoubtedly ensure her demise. Even so, never had she quivered at the thought of opening her eyes and dying by a foe, for reality itself could only ever be compared to a playground in her eyes, one that she had little time left to indulge in regardless.
As she shambled to the edge of the spire, her tattered and bloody beige robe caught under her feet and caused a trip and fall; but for as long as she had experienced the suffering of others that even her own suffering, be it a herald of death of not, seemed only like a meaningless dream. And so, she would endure. With a grandiose bout of newfound might, she stood. With a tender step, then a stroll, then a dash, then a leap, the Nefas of the Abyss threw herself beyond the spire, the wind brushing away the blonde locks of hair which obscured her vision and allowing her to observe the remains of the city far beneath the structure—even amid the rubble, some buildings yet stood, if only in a shadow of their former glory. As a ruin that existed for much over two-thousand years, the medieval architecture clearly suggested that it was once home to a then advanced civilization in worship of Velia Agostinha Vivax. Hidden somewhere beyond this maze of antiquity was the ascent to the world outside.
The Nefas of the Abyss spoke to herself whilst still in descent, "So the Nefas of old know me as Mulier Aridus? Then it is time I showed them the Arid Woman as I always viewed her." With that, she vanished into the ruins as the wisps of light went black as night.
To the Promised Meeting
Nine thousand souls, nearly a third of four different districts, were slated to die today. There was an imbalance in the cycle of souls that needed to be corrected. Nine thousand souls was the price needed to maintain the cycle.
Normally any division could take on this task, but this time the 12th division, normally researchers but also the ones who decided when it was necessary to achieve the balance. nearly 400 of the 450 members of the division were out today, clearing out parts of several high numbered districts to fufill the requirements of balance.
Chitose Wasuchiru, newly promoted 12th seat officer of the division, was one of these 400. He was charged with clearing out a half a block of all inhabitants, nearly 100 souls, on his own as the seated officers had larger duty areas than the lesser shinigami. It was not a task he enjoyed, but it was a necessary one. If the shinigami failed in their sworn duty to maintain balance, far more could be in danger than any sense of morality they had could possibly be worth.
Chitose had cleared most of his area, there being merely another seven souls left in his area. With a sigh at this thought, he pronounced to himself, "I really hate doing this, and all the running and screaming really makes it harder... Why can't people understand that we hate doing this as much as they hate it happening to them..." he then sighed before adding, "Well, at least I only have a couple left, then I probably can take a break in the neighboring district, will be a nice change of pace from... this..." With that thought uttered, he labored on with his grim, but necessary, task.
"And so what harm would a little... expediency be, to that end?" called out a voice from somewhere above. On cue, a smoldering pile of bodies fell from the sky, just a few feet before the burdened Shinigami, dissolving slowly into a mass of ashes flowing away with the wind. As the rubble of death cleared, a strange creature could be seen from behind it, having seemingly appeared out of no where. With a slightly grim tone, the creature spoke, "If my 'intel' was correct, this is a routine 'purging' of lesser souls done by you Shinigami so as to maintain the equilibrium of souls; that is not to say that I care to know any of this, naturally."
"Hey, the captain ordered it," Chitose shrugged at the strange little dog thing that was speaking to him, "What can a guy do?" Then with a yawn, as he hadn't slept much the night before, "So considering that it's my job to kill every inhabitant of this block, why approach me? That's not a reaction I normally see." Looking at the dog beast thingamajig more closely, he finished with a more friendly tone, "I don't think anything like you was mentioned in my briefing anyways, so i'll pass on trying to balance you. So... How's it going?"
Having expected a far less casual response from Chitose, the creature slowly narrowed its eyes. "I see, so you have no intention of cowering in fear at my little... exhibition. Perhaps that was to be expected." The creature began to pace to and fro. "I have said this already, and yet I will say it again: I am by no means inclined to aid Shinigami such as yourself in any way. I had simply addressed those plebeians according to my own purposes, and you happened to be in a suitable spot for a burial. No, my conveniently-placed Shinigami, I am not well, I am furious—obsessed over a peculiarly that even one of my knowledge cannot seem to absolutely fathom." Having said this, the creature centered himself in front of Chitose once more. "I ask this not as a being apart from yourself in origin, but as one soul speaking to another: what do you think you are?"
"What am I? What am I..." He murmured, "Such a lovely question that is, filled with complexity, yet so simple, so bold." Continuing to wax poetically, he simpled proclaimed, "I am but many things, a soul, a shinigami, an officer, just as there are many things I am not. I am not human, nor am I a hollow, a quincy, a blank, or a memory. Though I think none of these are the answer you are looking for." Continuing, cept with a mischevious grin, he took a bow as he said, "I am simply... a good doggie."
The creature slammed its abnormally long tail into the ground, a passive attempt to regulate its mounting anger. "I think not." he replied with a slighter deeper tone. "If you cannot provide me with the answer I seek, that I can only assume that you, too, have little understanding of your 'attachment' to this realm, or so it would seem. This question of mine will not linger, for I do intend to discover the truth even if I must... deviate from my focus ever so slightly."
The creature slowly lifted up its right leg as its tail lit up at the tip with a curious glow. In this same instant, a thick, intricate blue book with golden embellishments materialized from below his paw. With a loud thud, the creature slammed its paw into the book. "Perhaps you have seen a sight such as this before?"
"I havent, but because of that... my sword kinda wants to speak to you." before mumbling," It doesn't even have ears... or a mouth for that matter." He then added, "hmm, how to let a sword speak... maybe? Why not, it's not like I can use that kido for long distance anyways." he said before pulling out a small bag filled with ash. Then to Glacies, he added, "This will take a second, I'm barely able to perform this kido WITH the incantation, and even then i can not use it to speak very far. That's because this is the single highest level of Kido I am capable of using by nearly twenty levels" As he marked his arms with the ash, he spoke a long drawn out incantion before casting Bakudō #77. Tenteikūra, forming a mental link between him and the dog being in front of him. This would allow a voice that only rang inside of him to reach the outside world, as he was incapable of materializing his spirit to where another could see it.
A raspy voice, one almost dripping in solemness and stagnation, was broadcast to the mind of the soul in front of him. "I know what you are," it stated, each word dragging until the next, "Venator Scientiae... That book is your life work, the sum total of all your knowledge." Then there was a pause before it added, "It has been a millennium since I have last seen one of your kind..."
"How intriguing," the creature—the Venator Scientiae—quietly spoke, remaining completely stationary. "So it would seem that you are the one I should have spoken to all along. If you know of my kind, then you must also know how I became aware of your existence although we have never met. It was from one of the very same Venatores Scientiarum you once encountered that I acquired knowledge of your existence...and the curse which binds you and your boy to this realm alone, or so it would seem."
With a liquid chuckle. he responded, "This curse isn't something that one can just learn about and understand... I've watched a thousand generations of my host try. No knowledge on how it works or even exists has been gleaned to the best of my knowledge. It's ancient beyond measure, and I do not know of another case like it."
"Is that so?" the Venator Scientiae spoke as it dismissed its Bibliotheca with a slight shift of the paw which held it. "I have bode my time in this realm doing little more than unraveling as many of its secrets as I could discover; there is little more here to pique my interest and, as such, I would stand little to gain in taking advantage of you two, as clueless as you both are." Once again, the Venator Scientiae slammed its tail into the ground, though not out of anger. "I will admit, however, you speak of something which would benefit me greatly were I to fully understand it, and to that end, perhaps an arrangement which could benefit the both of us could be discussed." The Venator Scientiae narrowed its eyes. "What say you?"
"What did you have in mind?" Responded both the blade and the shinigami, almost in unison. However, before the sword could say any further, the communication broke down, as Chitose could not hold that particular spell for very long. With a yawn he apologized while being visibly tired, "Sorry, I can't hold that particular spell for any real length of time. Though I can always relay anything it says," Then with a pause to draw breath, "So what sort of deal are we talking about here?"
"I guarantee no success, but surely you would enjoy a little 'vacation' regardless, no?" The creature leapt within a few feet of Chitose and sat down. "My name is Glacies Fidus. I seek only to regain what I lost long ago according to my own recollection, and to that end, I simply desire knowledge—nothing more, nothing less. I have traveled to and fro Soul Society and the Human World in search of what I need to restore my true might, and in the process I met and befriended a woman in London who seems to be an astute historian. This woman I speak of possesses a power which allows her to unite with any soul of her choosing and grasp its entire history. If she were to do this with your own soul, she may then be capable of deciphering the origins of this curse which we both seek to understand. I only ask, if this works in our favor, that you share with me whatever you learn from her." The dog-like creature, Glacies Fidus, turned and slowly strolled away from Chitose as he continued to speak. "I happen to be planning an outing to the Human World to meet with this very woman I mentioned for another purpose which has nothing to do with this arrangement. Should you accept this deal, I will take you to her. There is little if aught you stand to lose in such an arrangement; would you not agree?"
"Why not, I got the next week off anyways after this little jaunt and my current project got finished last night. Though the question is, how do you plan to get to the human world anyways? The shinigami are not exactly known for letting people run freely." He responded.
At this, Glacies let out a small cackle as he stopped to respond. "There is a technique of mine which I use to freely traverse dimensions. Normally it would be impossible to use it to carry you along with me, but I have discovered a way around its shortcomings; first, I would need to transport your spirit into the book I just showed you until I have arrived in the Human World. If you would prefer your own methods, if any, then I will simply disembark now regardless of any intention to follow me or not, and await your presence there."
"I'll pass at being sealed into a book if you don't mind. I can easily enough trick our LT, who's currently acting captain since Captain Hikufune is busy on a project." He responded, "LT Sarugaki never actually reads the forms we have her sign. It's a running bet on what we can get away with in the 12th division. Though the last guy who tried anything serious is still in the hospital... but eh, he was stupid about it, only handed her the single form. I got a whole stack for her already."
And with that, Glacies turned his head in Chitose's direction with no hint of emotion in his gaze before vanishing with a slight flick of his tail, leaving a small blizzard in his wake which echoed his passing words, "Do not disappoint me."
"Well, now to go turn in those reports. Fun times are ahead." Chitose said as he walked away from where he met the strange little dog with a whistle.
Night of the Black Rose
It had rained throughout the night, leaving a wet, dreary blanket draped across the gray shoulders of morning. It was typical London weather, although not for a midsummer June day, and especially not for this day. This day was meant to be clear and bright, the sun and unclouded skies should have bowed before Her Majesty the Queen, paying due respect and deference on the occasion of her youngest and most favored daughter’s debutante, scheduled to begin that afternoon. Yet considering the weather had chosen to defy Her Majesty’s imperial rule, the event should have been cancelled altogether. At least, that was Dresden’s personal thought on the matter. He executed a series of swift, flowing cuts through the air, watching as condensation flew from the edge of the blade in thin streams of clear water. Of course it was a frivolous proposition. With so many nobles and important persons in attendance, the Empress of Russia herself among them, such recourse was obviously impossible. He lunged forwards, striking at the heart of an invisible enemy with the tip of his small-sword before retreating to his original position. He had to remind himself that formalities must be observed, serving as a thinly veiled front to the true happenings that would be underway at the ball: political alliances, instigations, contracts, even conspiracy… His soft-sided boots moved silently over the wet turf, the thick grass allowing him an extra spring to his movements while at the same time threatening to unbalance him.
There was one in particular that he had been ordered to investigate. The Viscount of Simonis had been making a series of interesting purchases of land that seemed to threaten the interests of Dresden’s employer: the Imperial Romanov family. He sighed as he initiated a swift circular parry. The old prince who had hired him was a paranoid fool. Rumors, alleged facts and scraps of information did not warrant enough evidence to arouse suspicion in his own opinion; and in fact the pretext he had concocted to explain his presence in London was somewhat more complicated than his actual commission. He was posing as a “distinguished” warrant officer in reserve, although considering the current state of the Russian armed forces the position was not as impressive as it would at first seem. Dresden disengaged from a lunge, rapidly switching the direction of his attack to slice at his nonexistent adversary. He was still surprised that his application to attend had been approved. Perhaps the second stipulate of his façade had helped to win him favor, as he was also meant to serve as an assigned escort to none other than…
“Herr Petrov?” He had been so absorbed in his ponderings and quiet practice that he had not noticed the approach of footsteps across the drenched lawn, and the sudden voice startled him. Granted, their presence signaled neither spiritual pressure or an intention to attack, and was indistinctively human, thus escaping spiritual detection. He halted in his movements and turned, and there stood the Countess of Yunevich herself, Marie Sophia Alexandra.
“My lady,” Dresden stammered as he gave a curt bow. “May I ask why you are outside?” he asked, perhaps more sternly than intended.
She raised her chin and retorted coolly: “Why should I not be outside? Is it improprietous?” Dresden sighed inwardly. As dissident as always. He thought. Although he had only just met the young countess a week ago upon his arrival from Russia, she had already made quite the impression. Willful, headstrong, and intelligent, she seemed eager to defy as many norms for her age and sex as possible. But then, Dresden knew very little about the current youth society, and so she could have been as uncontrary as any proper lady of her age. But judging from the reactions of her governess and the many exasperated expressions from her retinue of servants, he knew that was not the case. Not to mention his own experiences had corroborated that assumption.
“Only due to the weather.” he answered, trying to add a measure of levity to his tone. “And besides, it’s six in the morning.” he pointed out. “Shouldn’t you be preparing for the day’s events, my lady?”
“Oh.” she began. “Well, you see, I saw you from across the lawn and wondered what it was you were practicing at.” She turned to cast an almost furtive glance back in the direction of the main house. It was an immense estate, consisting of three stories of brick and stone in Jacobethan style, with elegant spires and intricate masonry to compliment baroque gables and arches. The Duke of Sandringham had graciously decided to host their entourage there, along with several others attending the debutante. The point was that it was expansive, and Dresden doubted the credibility of her excuse considering his intentional distance from the house.
“You have keen eyes indeed.” he said. “Now if you will excuse me while I retrieve the rest of my equipment, and then we will return to the house.” He strode over to a small gazebo where he had kept the scabbard for his small sword as well as a few other items, such as the saber he had been practicing with earlier. Sophia followed behind him, stepping under the awning to escape the drizzle. She seated herself on one of the benches and watched quietly as he carefully dried each blade, applied a thin coating of oil, and sheathed them.
“It must be difficult to practice without a sparring partner.” she noted, probably an attempt to distract him and delay the inevitable.
“Sometimes the mind serves as the most expert opponent.” Dresden replied. There was a moment of silence, so he continued. “It is unusual for my lady to take a sudden interest in fencing. If I may intrude: but my lady seems to be in some sort of distress?” Sophia looked away.
“I don’t mean to burden you with my own personal troubles,” she murmured. She sat there with all the calmness a seventeen-year-old could muster, but Dresden saw as she twisted her hands anxiously in her lap. She had obviously come all this way because she had wanted to find someone to talk to, or at least someone who could listen to her without judging or censoring her. With patient honesty and fair-mindedness, Dresden had proven that he could be that person. Not that it was due to a personal attachment, of course, but rather a residual habit from his occupation. Fostering trust in order to coax information. But in Sophia’s case he had no reason to play the spy. She had found a friend in him on her own, and he no longer had to guard his duplicity because he was no longer duplicitous.
“As was once said to Machiavelli,” Dresden cast his mind back to find something that would be closer to Sophia’s interest in philosophy and history. “Feelings are like wine that knocks a cork out of a bottle. There is inward fermentation, and there must be a vent.” he said. As planned, it did seem to break her out of her gloom. She smiled, biting back a laugh.
“I believe you are thinking of the quote by Guicciardini: ‘To give vent now and then to his feelings, whether of pleasure or discontent, is a great ease to a man's heart.’” she said.
“Ah, I see… Please pardon my ignorance.” He said nothing afterwards, waiting for her to gather her thoughts.
“I suppose I have been ‘fermenting’ for a while…”
She began to talk, gradually becoming more loquacious and frank, and Dresden was content to listen. They conversed in German. Although Sophia now resided in Russia, she had been raised in Württemberg since the age of six because of her poor health as a child. Perhaps due to the relative isolation and seclusion, detached from the world-wandering life led by her parents, or the brilliant instruction of some unknown tutor, or even the myriad of hours spent in the châteaux’s expansive library, she had become a confident, independently-minded intellectual in her own right. She spoke with graceful articulation, and was most at ease in German. Dresden had readily obliged, even though he was supposed to be under the guise of a native Russian-speaker. German had been his first language, after all.
She told him of her frustrations, all of which she had been holding back for some time now. “I know it can’t be avoided,” she said, “I know it is all just the observance of formality, but… the fact of the matter is that my aunt has been pressuring me to find a proper suitor for some time now. But in my mind, this debutante is excessively ceremonious…” Dresden did not catch all of what she said, but he caught the underlying mood behind her words. There was the aggravation behind her rather helpless position, but there was also fear. He could understand that. In comparison to his perceived physical age, she was nearly ten years his younger, and there would no doubt be suitors twice his age who would be interested in her. He personally considered the practice of arranged marriage to be quickly becoming unrealistic and obsolete. Although not entirely bellicose in his view towards the elitist society, he was finding that his distaste for it continued to grow with the passing years. He suspected Sophia shared his views. But from her tense state, he wondered if there could be something else behind her anxiety…
A gentle roll of distant, muted thunder interrupted her, and the rain began to fall in earnest.
“The weather has become quite militant.” he stated as he watched the water fall over the house and lawns. Sophia stood and went over to the threshold of the pavilion, staring out at the thick sheet of rain.
“I can be entirely careless at times,” she noted wryly, folding her arms closer to her chest. She was wearing a light tea dress and was already shivering from the damp cold, so he offered her his own coat. “I would not be surprised if my governess suffers an apoplectic fit when she sees me.” she said as she placed the coat over her shoulders gratefully.
“Perhaps the ‘storm’ can be lessened if we hurry.” Dresden suggested. He slung the straps of his two swords over his shoulder and they set off towards the house. They walked as briskly as possible, and were about halfway across the lawn when Sophia stumbled over the hem of her skirt and spilled across the grass before he could catch her. He helped her to her feet, and she took stock of her now soaking and mud-streaked gown.
“Well, so much for staying dry.” she said with an exasperated sigh. Then, with a sudden grin, she tossed his coat back at him and took off in a headlong dash, heedless of the mud and water flinging behind her.
“My lady!” he called after her. Caught off guard, Dresden had to sprint to catch up to her.
As expected, her governess met them at the door with a steady stream of reproach. Before Sophia could even make an excuse for herself she was whisked away by a small throng of servants, no doubt carried off to begin the preparations for the upcoming event.
Dresden had his own preparations to make for the day, and so took his leave. He had breakfast in his quarters, a simple meal of toast, eggs, and Russian black coffee accompanied by an edition of the Moskovskie-novosti. He appreciated the thought shown by his host, or whoever had added the newspaper to the breakfast tray. A long-established publication aimed at an educated, elite audience, the paper had recently begun to take full advantage of the freedom of press under the current Tsar. In fact, the main article of that week’s issue covered the ongoing protests against the Tsardom itself by the Narodniks. He scanned through the articles as he brushed off the jacket of his dress uniform. It was a very dark blue, black under all but the brightest of lights, and had a stiff red officer’s collar and silver epaulettes. The flap that folded across his chest carefully hid the small pistol that he had strapped close to his ribs. The tassels and belt also helped to conceal the gun, and the lining of the fabric held many cleverly tailored compartments that he filled with various light throwing blades.
But what was most telling in the newspaper was what not what the articles included, but what they chose to omit. Always there was a subtle undercurrent, barely constrained tension, a swelling of emotions and theories that threatened to break through the surface suddenly. Dresden equipped himself with two more knives, one in each of his boots and covered by his long, red lampassed trousers. He also carefully stowed a four-shot derringer away in one of his pockets, two Seele Schnieder capsules in another, and finally a silver pocket watch. This was perhaps the most advanced piece of his arsenal. It was a clever design, with a special mechanism that, when triggered, would expose a keen razor blade that lined the watch’s case. The thin chain was also retractable, but when extended to its full length of ten feet allowed him to swing the object as a more distanced weapon. It was something he had acquired recently, and it had taken him a good amount of training to become skilled in its use. Most importantly of all, he slipped his Quincy cross under the seam of a patch on his right cuff, closing the pocket with one or two very light stitches so it would not slip out until he himself tore it from his sleeve. He also carefully folded a small vial of white powder into his handkerchief, which was powerful enough to knock a grown man unconscious when consumed. He rarely, if ever, used the drug, but carried it with him just in case. Despite the extensive collection of equipment, he had hidden everything away with expert skill so that nothing interfered with his movements or caused unwanted bulk or noise, and yet could be easily removed in a fight.
For several years now there had been growing unrest among the Russian population. Thinking back, he could say the political turmoil had begun to spread among the middle and lower classes since the French Revolution. The unrest currently perpetrated by the Narodniks was simply the most recent manifestation of social discontent. Although the movement consisted mainly of intellectuals who held philosophical and political discussions, he knew that a few more fervent supporters were rashly calling for an immediate revolution. He simply hoped that things did not escalate to an actual combat. Finally, he hung his “ceremonial” saber from his belt, even though he knew it was out of fashion. It would not be outrageous to expect an officer of his rank to carry a sword, and he knew he would most likely have to turn it in at the door anyway. But, one could never be too cautious. Thinking about the current state in Russian politics had put him in an uneasy state, and for some reason he felt a subdued, creeping premonition over that upcoming night. He did not normally carry so much equipment with him, and was in no way expecting a fight or any sort of conflict, but he had been caught without a weapon far too many times in the past. He would not make that mistake today.
By the time the carriage pulled in front of the east wing of Buckingham Palace, the rain had stopped and the sky had somehow miraculously cleared, disproving all predictions Dresden had held earlier about the weather. He helped Sophia down from the carriage, and she gathered up the train of her dress before they made their way across the front courtyard. They were accompanied by her aunt, who was serving as her sponsor, who marched along in front of them. Unlike most of the debutantes, who wore pure white evening dresses, Sophia had chosen one of a very light blue. Its shade could have almost passed for white, but the subtle difference made her distinct from the other attendees while matching her fair complexion and taupe-brown hair. As per requirement she had a small veil attached to her hair with three white ostrich feathers, worn slightly to the left. The dress was accompanied with white gloves, a silver necklace with a single pearl and matching earrings, and had short sleeves. Cloaks were not permitted, leaving the low neckline exposed. Fortunately the day had turned balmy and they were soon at the door, so it did not matter if she had a shawl or not.
Once inside the palace she was quickly ushered off to the great room where she would be presented before Queen Victoria herself, and both Dresden and her aunt were allowed to follow. The actual ceremony took only a few moments as she gracefully entered and curtsied deeply before the sovereign, kissing the queen’s own hand before straightening and exiting backwards, careful not to trip over her train or show her back to the queen. Dresden was impressed, as the presentation had been executed flawlessly. For the past week a flurry of ongoing and intensive last-minute preparations had been underway, and Sophia herself had told him just that morning of the extensive training she had been given over the past few months in order to accomplish that one entrance, bow, and exit. She had spent hours in learning how to walk gracefully and with seemliness in order to glide across the room, sweeping her dress appropriately as she moved. But then, with rather anticlimactic brevity, it was over.
From the program Dresden gathered that there were nearly three hundred debutantes to be presented that day, and Sophia had been one of the first. So there was a lengthy span of time between the ceremony and the actual ball. Fortunately there were several smaller events to keep the participants entertained, such as an informal concert, a light luncheon, and a tour through the palace gardens. For Dresden, the time passed agonizingly slow. He had seen no sign of his target since arriving that morning, and was beginning to feel as though his role had been, as he had feared, a rather pointless one. If he could not be given a formal introduction to the Viscount, he would be forced to conduct his espionage completely undercover, as opposed to using a public relation to serve as his front. That meant complications, and more time, and a higher risk of discovery. Thus he continued to keep a sharp eye out for the man, although his hopes of finding him continued to dwindle as the day wore on.
At last the evening arrived, and with it came the event all had been expectantly waiting for. The dancing began in grand style with an opening waltz, and each lady and her sponsor was announced before entering the ballroom with her assigned escort. The room was enormous, with a high ceiling that stretched far above them. Huge chandeliers set in even panels complimented the sunlight let in by the narrow windows that lined the edge of the ceiling, and there was a large painting in between each window. The smooth wooden floor stretched evenly, only broken by a line of red-velvet chairs on either side of the room, and bold reds and golds directed the scheme of the decorations. Literally hundreds filled the ballroom floor, and Dresden paused for a moment, closing his eyes and seeking out spiritual pressure amongst the crowd. There were a few bright spots here and there, denoting the very small handful of individuals who were spiritually aware, but there were not many. A few were even Quincy, he noted, and he hoped none of them were members of the Vormund. At least, members who would recognize him. Nevertheless, he was glad he had chosen to bring so many weapons with him. It comforted him, if he was for some reason involved in a conflict with another supernatural being.
The first dance was rather complicated and long, and was followed by several others. All of Dresden’s skill and agility, as well as his memory, were put to the test as they circled around the floor, careful to avoid crashing into any other pair. Sophia was herself exceptional, moving with grace and dexterity despite having to hold on to the long train of her dress, and Dresden felt as though he may have been holding her back with his rusty lead. After a particularly fast-paced Viennese waltz, they decided to rest and found their way to the refreshment-room for something to drink. The decorations for the event were more elaborate here than they were in the actual ballroom, simply for the reason that there was more to decorate. Particularly impressive was the towering flower arrangement that cascaded over the centermost table. Sophia decided to examine it more closely, and they found one particularly impressive design featuring a stark contrast between white and black roses. Dresden recalled the black mourning dress that the queen still wore after her husband’s death, and wondered if the roses had been added to compliment that fact. It was a rather morose touch, he thought, although the flowers were beautiful in their own way.
“Rosa chinensis semperflorens,” Sophia noted, giving the species name.
“Ja. A particularly dark cultivar.” He wondered how much ink it had taken to create the even color displayed by the roses.
“Miss Yunevich?” someone asked from behind them. They turned and saw two men, one in his thirties and the other barely older than Sophia. Dresden noted as she caught her breath suddenly, but it was a barely perceptible reaction. It was the older man who had spoken.
Sophia dipped in a polite curtsy. “My lord Pahlen,” she said. Of course. The man was Count Nikolai Pahlen, a distant cousin of Sophia’s, and it was through that family’s relation that the Yunevichs were themselves connected to the imperial Romanovs.
“I would like to introduce you to Baron Dmitry von Zorich.” he said. Turning to the young man with wild dark hair beside him he said, somewhat boredly, “this is of course the Countess of Yunevich.”
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” she said, almost too quickly as she extended her hand. The Count Pahlen turned to Dresden, who gave a deep bow. As they exchanged pleasantries Dresden overheard Sophia whisper to Dmitry:
“I thought you said you would not be able to come?”
“It was a miracle, really.” the young man replied. “And only because I have won favor with the Count.”
It appeared the two already knew each other somehow, although this was supposed to be their first meeting and formal introduction. As the Count Pahlen left the small party, his task having been completed, Dmitry asked:
“If it would not trouble you, my lady, may I have this dance?” he asked. There was a sudden spark in Sophia’s eyes, and she glanced at Dresden for a brief second, who only nodded. He, unlike Sophia’s aunt, was not the one who decided which suitor she could and could not dance with. And considering her aunt had disappeared into the crowd sometime after the ceremony, she had only herself to blame if Sophia happened to pick the wrong partner. But from what Dresden could tell, this was the only man she had wanted to meet at the debutante. He did not admit it, but he was happy for her, and secretly rooting for their hidden love to flower under the oppression of Sophia’s societal role.
“Of course.” she said to Dmitry, her smile shining through her voice. Dresden followed the couple to the dance floor, hovering by the wall as they took their place on the dance floor. They did not have a chance to dance immediately, as the song that had been being played came to a close. Instead of immediately beginning another waltz, there seemed to be a lull in the music.
“Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention?” the crowd nearest to the stage stopped and looked up at the man who had appeared in front of the orchestra, standing beside the conductor. The stillness quickly spread through the rest of the room until it was quiet enough for all to hear. “In honor of her majesty, the Empress of Russia, we will now present a delightful, fanciful little piece, composed by none other than Tchaikovsky at the start of this year while he was travelling in Nice. The middle section, as you will soon notice, was based on the dear old song ‘La fille aux oranges’. It has never been heard in public before, and although the piece is not finalized, we hope that you will thoroughly enjoy it nonetheless.” he swept his hand towards the readying musicians. “May I proudly present, Tchaikovsky’s second Humoresque.” There was polite applause, and then the music began. After listening for a few moments some overeager couple began to dance, and the ballroom floor was once again filled with movement. Dresden listened to the piece appreciatively, wondering if he could afterwards emulate the tune on his violin. His attention was trained on Sophia and Dmitry, who continued to move back and forth across the floor as another song began. She had a suppressed smile in the corner of her mouth, but a brightness shone through her eyes, and Dresden knew that she was inwardly beaming. He shook his head. It was so painfully obvious, that she was in love.
“Good evening sir,” his quiet reverie was interrupted by an eager, slightly high-pitched voice. He turned his attention away from the dance floor to find a young man, barely out of his youth, standing to his left. The boy gave a short bow as he was acknowledged. “Pardon me sir, but I could not help but notice your uniform. I gather that you are an officer?” he was nearly stumbling over his words, and his face was flushed. Obviously it had taken nearly all of his courage to approach a complete stranger without a formal introduction. For that Dresden commended him. On the other hand, what matter was of such importance to warrant the near-breach of proper etiquette?
“There are many officers here,” Dresden said, gesturing towards the crowd. “I am simply one among many, and no one of consequence.”
“Ah yes, but,” he brushed aside the subtle dismissal and went on. “You are a member of the Russian Imperial Guard?” Dresden raised an eyebrow. The lad could not have been older than fifteen, and spoke with a Belgian accent. To distinguish rank and nationality suggested familiarity with the military affairs of other countries. Dresden assumed that most would have mistaken him for a German, considering their recent involvement in the Franco-Prussian war.
“Yes, that is correct.” he said, somewhat warily.
“Did you serve in the Crimean war?” the boy asked abruptly. Dresden was insulted.
“What? How old do you take me for?” “I’m sorry. It was my understanding that those in the Russian military are conscripted for some twenty years.”
“That practice was abolished six years ago.” he stated flatly.
“Oh, I see…”
“And I must say that this is a highly unusual way to approach a stranger. Do you begin all conversations in this way?” he asked.
“Ah, I beg…” he faltered, suddenly aware of his own absurdity. “I beg your pardon. I am Augustus Dufort. My father is the Viscount of Simonis.”
That caught Dresden’s attention.
“Iven Petrov, former Ensign of the 2nd Brigade.” he gave the customary replied as they shook hands.
“To answer your question,” Augustus said, “I have a keen interest in military affairs. It is something that I personally enjoy to study.”
“War is never something to be enjoyed, heer Dufort.” he pointed out. Augustus sighed.
“My father has told me often the same thing.” he said. “Ah! I should introduce you to my father!” he exclaimed eagerly.
“I would be most privileged.” Dresden said with a nod, hoping that his own eagerness was not conveyed in his voice. Without much further ado, Augustus led him from the main area towards the refreshment-room. He felt somewhat guilty in leaving Sophia unobserved, but he would return before the end of the next dance, and so would not be gone for long. Near one of the tables a short, rather rotund man stood with a glass of champagne in his hand, animatedly discussing something with a small group of other middle-aged gentlemen. He was well dressed in a lounge suit, his double-breasted waistcoat stretching over his ample stomach. His hair was combed back from his forehead and he had a bushy, pointed mustache that was curled at the ends. So this is the Viscount of Simonis. Dresden smiled to himself. He looked like any ordinary man of his social station, and once again began to think that his assignment had been given on the basis of paranoia. He and Augustus waited from a polite distance as the Viscount finished his conversation and turned back to the refreshment-table. He caught sight of Augustus and his eyebrows jumped rather merrily.
“Ah, Augustus!” he said. “I was wondering where you had wandered off to.”
“I’d like to introduce you to officer Petrov.” he said. The two shook hands.
“Ah, a pleasure to meet you.” the Viscount said. “I see my boy has been trying to persuade more war stories out of those officers he can convince to talk to him.”
“I did wonder about that myself.” Dresden said. The Viscount barked out a loud laugh.
“He’s got some strange habits, he does.” he said, clapping a hand on his son’s shoulder. Dresden noted as Augustus winced.
“He’s an Ensign in the Russian Imperial Guard, father.” Augustus told the Viscount.
“Ah yes. Well you see me boy, I gathered as much as only Germans and Russians carry sabers with them nowadays.” he said. Augustus looked crestfallen, and the Viscount laughed. “Don’t you worry, I’m sure he has many interesting stories to tell, despite being old-fashioned.” he turned towards Dresden, who ignored the offense.
“Actually sir, I only served for a brief time in actual combat on the Siberian front. It was a resistance movement that was quickly quenched.”
“Oh? So how did you come to such a high rank?” the Viscount asked. This time it was Dresden who winced. Neither the Viscount or his son seemed to have a strong sense of propriety.
“In the usual manner. It is a rather tedious story, suffice it is to say that I have served for nearly six years now.”
“Ah, I see.” The Viscount said. “I take it you are not inclined to discuss military affairs?”
“Well sir, I was hoping this brief excursion to London would allow me a brief respite from such matters…” he answered. The Viscount laughed again.
“Right you are! You see Augustus, you should try and broaden your topics of conversation.” he said. “Always the army, that one. I will forbid his enrollment for as long as possible, of course. He is too eager, that one. Delusional I would say.” there was an awkward moment of silence after the Viscoun’t blunt remarks, and he seemed to notice this at last and cleared his throat. “So my good man, what do you think of this new ‘metric system’ every scientist and his mother had been going-on about?” he asked.
“It should be adopted at once, of course.” Dresden replied evenly.
“Ah, that must be that old ‘que sera sera’ you Russians are known so well for,” he laughed loudly. “All this talk of unrest is clearly no threat to the Tsar, considering how much you people have already endured and tolerated without complaint.”
Dresden felt his blood begin to run hot, not because of the insult to the Russian people, but because of the man’s blind ignorance. He had to forcibly discard a few more cutting replies before he said:
“Some would consider the current lack of conflict to be a blessing.” he said.
“Ah, but you can’t call it a current lack of conflict. After all, the Special Tribunal was established just this month, was it not? What of the Nechayvtsy Trial?” Dresden sighed inwardly. The man was baiting him, and obviously wanted to get into a political debate, which he did not actually have that much time for. But he needed to get into the Viscount’s good graces, and knew the quickest way to do so would be to impress him. He contested as cleverly and amiably as possible, despite the subtle insults that the man continued to throw at him. At last he said:
“I hate to end our discussion so abruptly, but I really must take my leave.”
“Ah, a pity. You are obviously an educated young man, I must admit!” the Viscount said.
“Perhaps we could continue our dialogue at a later date?” Dresden asked. He was suddenly very alert, his entire attention trained on the Viscount as he revealed a piece of his true objective to the man.
“Ah, but of course!” he exclaimed. “I will be in London for the next two weeks, here is my card” he said, handing it to Dresden, “Come whenever you can.”
“I am most honored,” Dresden said with a short bow.
“Ah, one last thing before you leave!” he said. “I would like to introduce you to my lady from Greece,” he said, waving over a woman who had been standing to the side. Dresden was once more irritated with the Viscount, and he kept his focus trained on him as he took the lady’s hand.
“This is officer Petrov, from Russia. A skilled debater, I must say.” The man gave a rather sloppy introduction.
“How do you do?” Dresden said in a rather obligatory tone. He stooped to kiss her hand, a symbolic gesture lasting less than a second in which his lips came to just above her knuckles. But in that brief instant he received a very sudden, almost electrical shock. Energy seemed to leap from her skin, stabbing into him with vicious force. He jerked back uncontrollably and looked at her, examining her more closely now that he had been made suddenly aware of her spiritual pressure. “I beg your pardon.” he murmured. Her complexion was a dark and even tan, set off with the stark contrast of her light blonde hair. Wide, angled gold eyes and particularly thin eyebrows added to her unusual appearance. He should have been paying closer attention. A Quincy? Here? And he wondered if his spiritual signature had also been revealed to her. Undoubtedly it had, and his stomach sunk with that sudden realization. Was the Viscount also aware of the supernatural? He hoped desperately that he was not. “I really must go.” he said. And with that, somewhat awkwardly, he took his leave. As he left them he noted vaguely, somewhere in the back of his mind, that Augustus had long ago disappeared, but he thought nothing further of it as he searched for Sophia and Dmitry.
They were nowhere to be seen, having disappeared from the dance floor. Checking his watch he realized with growing dread that he had been away for nearly an hour. Something was amiss. Closing his eyes, he began to search for Sophia’s spirit ribbon among the hundreds that were in the place. But he knew her, and was familiar with her signature, and so after only a few moments of methodical, deliberate searching he was able to pick out her thread and follow it.
It led him outside, to the garden. A full moon shed its light over him, so he was able to see without difficulty. It was altogether too still and quiet, especially compared to the noise inside the palace. The ribbon led him further and further into the dark. What had she been doing out here? He began to grow more and more anxious. It was possible that she and Dmitry had simply slipped away, but he felt, for some reason, that was not the case. It was a knot of worry. An instinctual warning in the pit of his stomach. He picked up his pace, and at last caught sight of two figures. They stood behind an arbor, on the wide stone patio that served as a border to a small stream. Black roses grew under the shade of the hedge, although why he noticed that he could not say. He could hear the water whispering over stone, and nothing else. He masked his own presence and tread as silently as possible as he approached the patio. Emerging from under the arbor he stopped, suddenly, as dark realization dawned upon him.
It was Augustus, standing with a knife pressed against Sophia’s neck, her unconscious figure leaned against his lean frame.
“To tell you to remain where you are is redundant,” he said with an unpleasant grin. “But I will say it nonetheless: don’t move, or she dies.”
Dresden did as he told, remaining motionless as his mind began to race through possibilities of how to deal with the situation. Augustus’ eyes glowed with a soft yellow light, warily appraising him. His long, dark brown hair had fallen over his face, making the brightness of his eyes appear more threatening. From the disheveled state of his suit, Dresden could see that Sophia had put up an admirable struggle.
“You are not the son of the Viscount.” Dresden stated.
“No. And you are not a ‘simple Russian officer among many.’” he replied coolly, throwing his own words back at him. He spoke much more smoothly and eloquently than he had before, and Dresden realized that the front of a naive young lord had been nothing more than that— a front.
“To what end does the Seigneur du Simonis hire an assassin and kidnap a young countess?” he asked.
“That is none of your concern.” Augustus replied. “And now I will ask you a question: what are you? I don’t believe you are an actual Russian officer, at least not a normal one. You have too much spiritual pressure for that.”
Dresden sighed. “And here I thought I had been successfully hiding it all along.” he said. “But you are wrong on one assumption. I truly am an officer, and my only concern is the safety of my liege.” he smiled sadly. “It seems I have failed miserably in that one charge.”
“If that is truly the case then you will do as I say.” the young man said, readjusting his stance. He could sense Augustus’ murderous intent, and knew his threats were not empty, but still he could sense very little spiritual pressure coming from him. But his eyes continued to glow, belying his true nature. Dresden thought back to all the beings he had encountered in his existence, and at last remembered where he had encountered those signs before.
“You are a Nefas.” he pointed out. Augustus was taken aback, and was about to reply when they were interrupted by a voice, who was called out Sophia’s name again and again. It was Dmitry, who was steadily approaching their location at a fast run. Augustus swore as he burst through the arbor onto the patio, much in the same manner as Dresden had arrived.
“Sophia!” he started. Dresden’s hand shot out and he caught Dmitry by the arm.
“Don’t move.” he told him.
“You would be wise to follow what ‘officer Petrov’ has said.” the Nefas added. He began to inch back, and Dresden knew he was quickly running out of time. It was impossible to gauge how powerful Augustus actually was unless he tested him in combat, but he assumed that he would try to teleport at any moment.
“What is going on here?” Dmitry thundered, no doubt filled with panic.
“Something I was trying to discover myself.” Dresden said. His eyes had locked on to Augustus’ elbow. They were about twenty yards apart, close enough for Dresden to hit a target with a two-inch diameter without fear of missing. But the slightest movement on Augustus’ part could cause Sophia to be hit instead. For that reason he would not use lethal force. At any rate Sophia was a hostage. Unless Augustus was insane, he did not truly intend to harm her. Or at least kill her. He was gambling on the fact that the Nefas would not choose to plunge the knife in at any second as he had promised. Sophia was too valuable for that.
“Who are you?” Dmitry demanded of Augustus. “Why have you taken her as a captive?”
“That is none of your concern.” Augustus sneered.
“He was hired by the Viscount of Simonis.” Dresden said. “No doubt they expect to exact a ransom from the young lady’s aunt, who holds a valuable piece of land in Württemberg.” Dresden spoke quickly and evenly, and Augustus’ eyes began to widen. “Of course, I’m sure you are aware that this is not the only reason for her capture.” he said to Dmitry. “No doubt the Viscount intends to…”
“Stop!” Augustus said. Dresden had surmised correctly, it seemed, and was divulging too much. “Stop or I’ll be forced to kill the both of you!”
In that instant, while Augustus was caught off guard, Dresden struck. The blade flew from his hand with blinding speed, having appeared out of nowhere it seemed, and a split second later it was protruding from Augustus’ elbow. With a gasp of pain his arm that held the knife dropped, and in that brief window Dresden appeared in front of him, having covered the short distance in less than a second with Hirenkyaku. He drove his elbow into Augustus’ nose, and felt as he contacted bone. The Nefas stumbled back and Dresden caught Sophia before she could fall, stepping back to put distance in between them. Augustus glared at him, eyes wide, and bared his teeth.
“Damn Quincy.” he spat before disappearing with a sudden flash of bright yellow energy, using Volatus to take to the sky.
“Take her back to the palace.” Dresden told Dmitry as he handed Sophia over to the man. “I won’t ask why you two decided to wander off alone to the gardens, but to redeem yourself I would suggest you find her aunt and make a sufficient apology.” he said.
“What… what happened just now?” Dmitry asked as he tenderly took her in his arms.
“It would be best if you forgot all that you saw tonight.” he answered. “Especially if you wish to avoid adding further trouble in your future together.”
Dmitry’s face turned red, having been successfully distracted with the mention of marriage, as Dresden had intended.
“Now go.” he told him.
Dmitry nodded and turned without another word, heading back to the palace, and Dresden followed after Augustus. He too travelled through the air as he latched on to the subtle spiritual pressure of the young Nefas, and continued the pursuit as Augustus made his way east towards the center of London, following along the River Thames. In a very short distance Dresden would intercept him, and his quarry came into view just as the lights of London Bridge appeared. It had been closed for repairs, leaving the road clear and deserted. Interesting. Hopefully Dresden would be able to end the battle quickly, without adding further damages to the structure. In that instant he rushed forwards, crashing into Augustus and bringing them both down to the ground, skidding across the cobblestone in what Dresden hoped served as an attack of its own. He rolled to his feet unharmed, and found that Augustus had also escaped the fall without damage, suggesting he was either strong or agile enough to resist injury. This could be problematic. Dresden thought as they eyed each other from either side of the bridge. He could see that Augustus still held his elbow as a thin trickle of blood seeped from between his fingers.
“You won’t catch me off-guard again.” he growled.
“Trust me,” Dresden said as he quickly surveyed his surroundings. If there was to be a fight he would need every advantage he could find. “I have much more up my sleeve.”
Over the Water
Dresden moved one foot in front of the other, falling into a fencer’s stance as his hand moved to the hilt of his sword.
“What is your connection to the Viscount?” he asked the Nefas.
“Again, that is none of your concern.”
“You made it my concern when you harmed the Countess of Yunevich.” Dresden said, drawing the saber and leveling the light blade at Augustus. “And you will answer my question, whether or not the information is provided willingly or forcibly.”
“Is that a threat?” the Nefas spat. There was the briefest of moments as each opponent waited for the other to strike first. They gauged each other evenly, sensing for the slightest faltering, a wavering, an opening…
In an instant Dresden disappeared with a flash of blue light, appearing a moment later directly in front of Augustus as he slashed towards the arm that had already been injured. His aim was not to kill the Nefas, if at all possible, but rather to pressure him into surrender. Although he was prepared to use any means necessary to reach that end.
Augustus narrowed his eyes as they lost all radiance and color. Extending his uninjured left arm just as Dresden began his next move, he instantaneously materialized a rusted longsword shaped akin to a zweihänder to collide with Dresden's own weapon. Nevertheless, the force of the collision sent him reeling at some distance backwards; or was this his intention all along? With a graceful flip, Augustus balanced himself as he landed to the ground, pointing his otherworldly weapon at his opponent before raising it above his head and swinging it down, calling forth from the arc a crescent torrent of flame directed at Dresden. This seemingly slow and simplistic attack at first glance soon weaved itself into a wide vortex, travelling at a considerable speed to its destination and smothering its surroundings with a nearly unbearable heat.
Dresden’s eyes widened in shock as he was pushed back, and there was virtually no time to react as the flames neared him. In an instant he formed a defense with his Blut Vene, and blue Reiatsu pulsed through his veins, creating a visible pattern all over his skin as he came under total attack. The flames enveloped him, roaring all about him and yet being unable to harm him. He raised his sword and cut through the wall of fire, dispelling just enough of it to form a path. At the same time he ripped his Quincy’s cross from his cuff with his teeth and flicked it to the side, activating his spirit weapon. A metallic, rapid-fire gun with rotating barrels appeared on his forearm, with a small, round shield attached to the side. Although he had not wanted to use the weapon at first due to its destructive capabilities, the Nefas had proven with one attack that he could not be taken lightly, and Dresden needed to pressure him. He ran towards Augustus with his sword to his side, as if attempting a direct attack to the front, before suddenly switching directions and taking to the air above the Nefas using Hirenkyaku. He promptly strafed the area with Heilig Pfeil, thousands of blue bullets firing into the bridge below, creating a storm of glowing Reishi. Hopefully he had caught his opponent in the barrage.
The very ground beneath Augustus began to quake in the wake of his eerie grin. As the shower of Heilig Pfeil descended upon his being, the very concrete of the ground beneath his feet curved upwards before him to form a wall between him and the impending barrage. This was clearly a conjuration of Anima Obscuritas, but this wall of defense alone would prove an insufficient defense had Augustus simply remained still. Seemingly resolute in awaiting the end of the onslaught before ensuring the demise of his opponent through any means, Augustus sheltered himself underneath his barricade, allowing it to take the full brunt of Dresden's assault. The seemingly untainted concrete held unnaturally strong against the barrage of Heilig Pfeil, and the few Heilig Pfeil that did manage to slightly pierce this defense were seemingly absorbed into it. And with the strength acquired in turn, the structure slowly grew atop Augustus. By the time the last Heilig Pfeil made its way onto it only to be rent asunder just as the others, the structure had entirely consumed Augustus and no longer resembled a mere wall, but a gigantic concrete fist rooted to the ground. With Augustus seemingly nowhere in sight, the fist slowly twisted its flexible arm until it was directly facing Dresden, at which point it extended its fingers and lunged toward him with such force as to completely obliterate any mundane enemy had it cleanly impacted them.
Dresden’s instincts fired in an instant, and his body seemed to move on its own. With one flickering movement of Hirenkyaku he shot back away from the arm of stone, far enough so that he was out of harm’s reach. His normal Heilig Pfiel had not seemed to be effective against the barrier so, reaching once more into the folds of his jacket, he pulled out what appeared to be a small metal capsule. It was a Ginto bullet, and with one smooth motion he loaded it into the chamber of the gun. The bullet was designed to deliver a highly concentrated burst of Reishi upon impact, following the simple design of a combustion release charge. It was designed to deliver such force that it would obliterate anything in its path, cutting a hole into the target. This would service two purposes: The first being that Dresden could test the resilience of the stone structure, the second being that, if his enemy was truly behind the arm of concrete, the blast could serve to draw him out into the open. Considering the Reiatsu of the Nefas was nearly impossible to detect, Dresden knew that he could be anywhere. He had to remain on the alert.
With one smooth pull of the trigger, he sent the bullet flying towards the rock wall.
The ensuing eruption as the bullet collided with the center of the structure's palm threw it backwards onto the concrete of the bridge with a grating thud; while the bullet had failed to entirely demolish the structure, a gaping dent had been made on its palm, and yet Augustus still did not appear. From the same spot in the sky the bullet had impacted the structure, a thin cloud of aggregate particles flew forward in an attempt to entirely engulf Dresden and presumably tear him apart. It was at this very moment that Augustus reemerged at a discreet distance away from Dresden without any sort of herald, having taken advantage of the duration of Dresden's prior assault to reactivate his Pactum Anima and teleport away using the structure as a mask. Thrusting his inflamed weapon forward, Augustus directed a small pillar of flame toward his opponent, intent on piercing him from behind as he addressed the threat of the incoming particles. In the same moment, the concrete arm that had been blasted to the ground continued to grow until its entire forearm sprouted from the ground, feeding off the entire bridge and only hinting at the monstrosity that would be brought into existence were it not not to be dealt with before the opportunity could arise.
Against the night sky the dust had been hard to see, but he had seen it nonetheless, and that is what mattered. Dresden’s first thought was to dive beneath the surface of the river far below, so the water would coagulate and neutralize the attack, but he quickly cast that plan aside as it posed too great a risk. He had no idea what properties the animated particles held, and if the water was ineffective in stopping them, he would be in a fatal position.
Instead, within an instant, a small Gintō capsule flew from the cuff of his sleeve and he crushed it in the palm of his hand. There was a flash of blue and a glowing, almost transparent hexagonal shield of what appeared to be Reishi appeared in front of him, hovering in the air. He spread out the fingers of his left hand, stabilizing the structure. It was large enough to block the cloud of dust, and when the particles pelted into the shield it began to eat into it, breaking it up into spreading holes as if the Reishi were being dissolved by acid. But at the same time, it served to swallow the dust, so that the particles were absorbed by the shield even as they worked to destroy it.
All this had transpired in the span of a few seconds, but it had allowed his opponent enough time to launch another attack. Dresden felt the heat of the flames approach him from behind, and barely had time to twist around in order to block it. The pillar of flame contacted the small, round shield on his Spirit Weapon at the same time Dresden activated Blut Vene to strengthen his defense. It was fortunate that he had done so, for the flames contacted the shield on his arm, bloomed outwards, and poured over the rim.
Where did that bastard disappear to. He thought as his eyes followed the path the flames had undoubtedly taken, and he spotted his opponent. At the same time, he noted as the concrete arm back on the bridge began to grow and writhe. Obviously it was not something he could simply ignore as he had hoped. Whatever was behind the structure of stone, it needed to be dealt with before it could become a greater threat. And the way to deal with that was…
If only I had another pair of hands. Dresden thought. But it could not be helped. The first step was to at least hinder Augustus so he could not launch another attack from behind as Dresden worked to create the Gintō seal around the arm. To that end, as both the flames and dust ran their course, he dove forward with Hirenkyaku, launching his pocket watch. The object swung out to the side, a thin yet incredibly tensile line of Silber Draht following it. As the pocket watch was attached to a counter weight, it would wrap around the arms and torso of the Nefas in order to restrain him.
The instant Dresden threw the watch, he first fired a volley of Heilig Pfiel, then rapidly changed directions and headed back towards the bridge.
In the instant Dresden unleashed another barrage of Heilig Pfiel in in his direction and fell back, Augustus threw his weapon toward the fleeing Dresden before submerging his arms in a fiery aura, seemingly intent on fending off the entirety of Dresden's assault on his own whilst countering with his relinquished sword. Apparently distracted by the incoming arrows, Augustus completely ignored the pocket watch which flew past him and bound him with the Siber Draht following behind it, thwarting the technique he intended to use.
While initially shocked to be sure, Augustus quickly regained composure in his expression as his eyes, which simply remained fixed upon the impending volley, grew more radiant than ever. With a deep breath, Augustus braced himself for what was to come. As though Augustus' entire body had been augmented by his power, the shower of Heilig Pfiel, which relentlessly bombarded his body, failed to do little more than bruise his skin considerably. With the damage successfully mitigated, Augustus calmly looked on with his now darkened eyes as Dresden left for the bridge, making no attempt to escape his bindings. As Augustus' sword continued to descend on Dresden, the stone arm flailed wildly in the air in an attempt to knock Dresden aside with a backhand slap before he could step foot on the bridge it had claimed as its own.
The arm did present quite a difficulty, and as Dresden was distracted in trying to skirt around it without being hit he did not notice the incoming blade until it was almost too late. He turned at the last second and felt as the hair on the back of his neck was singed due to the flames radiating from the blade. The sword continued on its course and skittered across the bridge, and before he could react, the instant he registered the danger of his current position, the stone arm slammed into his side and sent him flying. He activated Blut Vene a split second after the impact, but felt a rib, possibly two, move out of place nonetheless. His momentum carried him away from the bridge and into the river. Although winded, he did not immediately try to scramble to oxygen. Pale moonlight was just barely penetrating the surface of the cold, murky water, casting shafts of shadows into the river. Extending his hand, he reached out into the recesses of the dark and swung his arm outwards. The shadows curled around him and enveloped him like a cloak, and he was pulled suddenly into the abyss.
Dresden had learned the ability while an assassin in the Bund, and for that reason he typically tried to avoid it using it at all. The shadows were welcoming, caressing even, and he shuddered.
Picking out the location of bridge based on the strong pooling of Reishi there, he emerged and found himself upside down beneath an arch of the bridge. With a deft backwards flip in mid-air, he reoriented himself and found his footing, although he winced at the pain the movement had caused in his side. Still hovering under the shadow cast by the bridge, he stared up at the brick above him, and frowned.
Could he channel the Sprenger up through the bridge? It was possible, although he would no doubt ruin the structure in the process. But it could not be helped. He drew a Seele Schneider and prepared to drive the canister into the surface of the bridge, the first marker.
Above the bridge fated to be demolished one way or the other, Augustus quietly browsed his surroundings, lying in wait for his enemy to reemerge from wherever he hid. As the parasitic stone structure on the bridge continued its consumption of its plentiful host, a new arm swung into life, having rose from the cracks left behind from the feral fury of its brethren. A deafening cry, not unlike that of a gruff-spoken man, sounded every crevice of both arms; a roar of victory to be sure. Augustus' lips curled into a snide grin at the succulent sight of his creation breaking free from the shackles of that puny bridge before focusing his eyes on the river itself. The waters of the river, too, as if bowing to Augustus' will, lifted into a expansive tide on one side of the bridge, encompassing its entire breadth. The rising tide made its way toward the bridge at a supernatural speed, intent on flushing out the enemy of its creator. Whether or not the possessed bridge would stand after this caliber of impact, only Augustus himself could know for sure.
Dresden’s hand faltered as the bridge itself roared with an unnatural howl, and before he could reattempt to place the Seele Schneider, the water rose up in a wall, threatening to swallow him.
“Damn.” he said, gritting his teeth. He could have used Schatten to once more avoid the attack, but quickly cast that option aside. No, he could not rely on the shadows to protect him. Not this time.
Taking the Seele Schneider in his hand, he activated it, and a blue light began to hum in a short, straight piercing blade. The water loomed over him, and he strengthened his stance, his veins glowing slightly with a pulsing cerulean light as he once again activated his defense. The wall crashed down over him, and at that instant he lunged forwards, slicing through the dense mass with an elegant, downwards arc of the blade. He emerged on the other side and turned, watching as the river, now a living, seething thing, engulfed the bridge. It rushed over it, dragging its heavy currents across the stone surface, pelting into the crevices and gaps and snapping off the lampposts, leaving only darkness in the wake of the wave. As if a giant were drowning under the tide, two arms reached out into the sky, grasping at nothing but the air. Dresden frowned. By now he had come to grasp that the creature of stone was indeed that— a creature. No doubt summoned and, to a certain extent, controlled by the Nefas. He could not help but be reminded of the eponymous Golem of legend, and for now that is what he would call it.
As the wave subsided and water continued to pour over the side of the bridge, he noted with some amazement that the structure had managed to withstand the onslaught. But it would not last for much longer, considering the rate with which it was being consumed by the Golem.
Dresden threaded his finger through the loop at the end of the Seele Schneider’s handle, and began to spin the blade until it was nothing more than a circular blur. One of the disadvantages of his Spirit Weapon was that he could not use the Seele Schneider as it was intended: as a spear fitted to a bow. But he compensated for that with the accuracy of his own throw. If the Golem had grown another arm, he would simply have to make the pentagram seal of the Sprenger larger...
Dresden launched the first blade of Reishi, the projectile flew through the air and wedged into the north end of the bridge, at the edge of the street. Hopefully Augustus would assume he had simply thrown at the Golem and missed, nothing more. Speaking of the Nefas, Dresden checked to make sure his opponent was still where he had last been— restrained by the Silber Draht in the sky above, before he repositioned himself with a few sliding steps of Hirenkyaku, this time coming to a halt on the north-west corner of the bridge. Dresden drew out another Seele Schneider and activated it, preparing to plunge it into the ground.
Augustus gazed with amusement as Dresden's blade flew past the Golem and seemingly missed its mark; in his eyes, his opponent had given away his position to launch a futile attack, an opening he would not fail to take advantage of. Closing his eyes to briefly meditate and draw upon the greatest reserves of his Nefas power, Augustus conjured forth five tall human-shaped figures coated in a black smoke which stood perfectly aligned at a distance behind him. Extending their sword arms in front of them, the figures commanded the smoke which had supposedly given them shape to amass at their clenched fists and extend outwards in the shape of elongated European blades; through this, the figures—the knights—unraveled their full glory. With their full-body plated silver armor glistening with a phantasmal refulgence, the knights swung their swords above their heads with perfect unison, cutting away at the darkness which consumed them and revealing their flawless conditioning, a far cry from the rusted sword Augustus once held. The only darkness that remained was that which exuded from the gaps of their armets, indicating a hollow presence behind their armor.
Augustus opened his now radiant eyes, and with no amount of movement teleported slightly away from the coil of Silber Draht that formerly restrained his body. Pointing a finger at his enemy, Augustus' knights secured the skies at all ends. The disembodied suits of armor all rose their swords as wisps of white flame emerging from their hilts spiraled to the tips of their blades before descending downwards and coating them with the fiery trail left in their wake. With a mighty two-handed swing, the knights each brought their swords down and launched their amassed energy all at once, blotting out the entire night sky around the bridge as the colluded flames spiraled wildly around the perimeter, leaving its masters unharmed throughout, before amassing in full somewhere above Dresden and beaming downwards as the arms of the Golem, which stood tall in the air, rapidly descended with one hand atop the other in yet another attempt to flatten Dresden. In truth, the flames had been aimed at a distance behind Dresden, where he would likely be if he had dodged the arms of the Golem, which would descend slightly before the flames, by merely falling back. Augustus himself simply remained in the air with his arms crossed, no doubt believing that he had ensured his enemy's demise.
So far away from that conflict, and yet Buckingham Palace felt like a dull roar in comparison. The music being played was but a quiet and somber melody when compared to the outrageous feats either combatant had brought to the fore, the clattering footsteps of the dancing nobility were whispers in the face of the orchestral unison in which the animated knights motioned for their attack. The nobles were content to remain in ignorance, simply partaking of the festivities of the palatial estate that they found themselves in. The focus was not on them, however. Instead it followed a seemingly unassuming young woman as she walked out onto a balcony, made up of towering pillars and an astounding view of the city. The London Bridge and its captivating battle lay in the distance, where the naked eye could not hope to make out what was going on, beside the odd flash of light or two.
"Alright, there's that Russian stiff", the girl remarked as a red ring began to circle the golden irises of her eyes. "And that's old August", her left eye closed and all of her focus was put on her right. Both of them were within sight of her otherworldly eyes but even she needed concentration for what came next.
She rose her arm in front of herself, her hand arranged into a poor facsimile of a gun. Index outstretched, thumb raised up, the rest of her fingers clutched inward like the grip. She tried to visualize the weight of a bow, the strain of pulling the string and holding it against the limbs of wood that did their best to force themselves into the position they had been accustomed to. Weightily, she motioned her arm across the air. First to aim at the Golem in its descent towards the earth, then to Augustus. Her sights lined up on the side of his face, though mentally she was aiming to get him right between the eyes. It was always a more satisfying shot, and she'd built up a stock of "third eye" puns over the years.
"Well one is the magic number", once she was sure the shot was aligned at that perfect point it was time to assemble the tools of the trade. A faint mist cast over her right arm, and a unique apparatus forged itself within. A gauntlet with a bow mounted atop a frame. Real weight pressed against her limb but she quickly righted herself and her left arm motioned over to provide support as she prepared to do the deed. Three arrows sat on the body of the apparatus, they were Heilig Pfeil made up of a great deal of Reishi. They were a lot of trouble to forge in the Human World, and these were likely the only arrows the girl would have access of such quality at the time. Luckily, she didn't plan on missing.
The centre arrow moved ahead of the other two on either side of it as its body began to crack and splinter, light shining through the holes in the wood. Though it had seemingly began to break, it was actually being strengthened even further. The girl pulled in whatever scraps of Reishi she could pull from the air to augment the shot. With the arrow primed, and her aim placed true, she was ready to fire. Augustus was the perfect target, sure he could escape to anywhere within the sky's purview, but he was unaware of her. At least he should've been.
"Bang", she stated with a mixture of seriousness and playfulness. Her thumb pressed downward and her hand cocked back to mimic the recoil of a fired gun. The limbs of her bow pulled with incredible force at that point, the string shot forward and the arrow was loosed into the air with the girl's light fanfaire. It traveled at breakneck speed for the brief moment that it was visible then it evaporated into the air. For those unaware, the girl's arrow had somehow camouflaged itself, but in truth it had entered the ancient pathways of Reishi that flowed through out the world, a concept that guided the greatest masters of Hirenkyaku, and fueled the girl's supernatural feat of marksmanship.
The arrow would re-appear a scant few feet from Augustus, drilling through the wind as it sought to puncture his skull. And in an instant, the arrow had marked its target, spilling his blood as it continued its trek through the skies like a shooting star in the cosmos. As their master's body plummeted toward the bridge, the knights dissipated into the atmosphere as the shapeless clouds of darkness they had first been contrived from. The flames, too, met with a similar end, rapidly slowing their descent and darkening much like the matter of the knights before fading away entirely.
As for Dresden’s part, despite the distance, he had felt the arrow pass through the body of the Nefas, although from where he stood he could not even see Augustus, nor was he aware as his former foe fell. Rather, he had sensed as the very atmosphere bent around the projectile, as it had seemed to tear through the fabric of the sky itself. The speed was immense, and it was an entirely odd sensation. The Reishi was incredibly condensed and strong, pulling the threads of Dresden’s receptive spiritual awareness along with it as it travelled.
The strange phenomenon passed in an instant, however, and Dresden had no time to devote to pondering over it, as he had more pressing matters at hand.
Much more pressing.
He had already positioned the second marker of the Sprenger, but before he had been able to move to his next location he had found himself surrounded by five ghost-like knights, barely catching as they formed a circle of fire in the air above him. The majority of his attention was directed to the looming arm of stone that would no doubt descend upon him in the next moment. He did not know if his Blut Vene could withstand being flattened by that mass of rock. He had survived a landslide in Siberia once... But now was not the time to gamble.
He leaped backwards to avoid the blow and, with a sudden, sinking dread realized that was what his opponent had intended all along in positioning the knights. A wall of flame descended, pouring over him and drowning him in fire. But the attack was not as intense as he had expected it to be, and easily defended against. He had his Blut Vene to thank for that. His formerly drenched clothing now steamed with mist, but he managed to emerge unscathed, which was entirely unexpected. Dresden frowned and leaped into the air as the hands of the Golem slammed down, using the force of the impact to propel himself upwards. In an instant he had vanished, reappearing on the other side of the bridge. He placed the next two Seele Schneider with one flowing movement of hirenkyaku, at the same time keeping out an eye for his adversary. Augustus was nowhere to be seen, and only the stone monster, now revealing what appeared to be a skull and misshapen face, served as any indication that a Nefas had been there at all. There was an unearthly howl, and Dresden bit his lip in annoyance. He was running out of time.
Firing a barrage of Heilig Pfiel at the Golem in order to divert its attention, he raced to reach his next —and final— point, activating the last Seele Schneider as he flew through the air. If this is ineffective... He thought as he slammed the blade into the ground. The instant it made contact with the earth, a glowing circle of blue Reishi began to pool around the Seele Schneider until, with a sudden burst of energy, a line of light shot outwards, straight back towards the bridge. It found the base of the Golem and there it began to coalesce, pressure building in a thick pool of Reishi. As the monster was immobilized for a short time, Dresden calmly stood to his feet and removed the small metal canister that would seal the Golem’s fate, at the same time allowing the Sprenger time to charge. He extended his hand and carefully tilted the tube until a pure drop of Gintō fell from its rim to meet the Seele Schneider’s handle.
“Schlaf schön.” he murmured softly.
The liquid trigger activated the seal, and a massive explosion of intense blue energy engulfed the bridge. A pentagon of light shot into the air, no doubt serving as a beacon to all in the surrounding area who were spiritually aware... such as whoever had sent a bolt of Reishi tearing through the air earlier. Dresden cupped his chin in his hand as he thought, with the force of the explosion rushing all around him. He wondered, could it possibly be? But no, that was too improbable, and jumping to conclusions. Instead, he turned his attention towards locating the Nefas that had begun this whole mess, but in the chaos caused by the detonation of the Sprenger, it was nearly impossible to see anything around the bridge. Well, former bridge...
As the waters settled and the lights faded, the spot where the bridge once stood could be clearly viewed by both physical and spiritual beings alike. Indeed, not even a trace could be seen of the once proud bridge from above—whether it had been entirely eradicated or simply toppled to the depths of the river along with the bridge, the Golem could not have conceivably adapted to this magnitude of attack whilst still bonded to the bridge. A calming moment of silence portended the end of the battle, and besides the missing bridge, only a gargantuan blanket of dust in the air remained in its wake. At that moment, it seemed as if Augustus' body was the only remaining concern—had the mysterious Nefas truly been dealt with?
A quiet, prolonged groan sounded from behind the dust, one entirely unlike the cries of the Golem of the Bridge, and yet it arrived seemingly without any plausible source—surely this female howl did not emerge from a hidden Augustus himself. For nearly the span of an entire minute did the groan continue, gradually growing in its intensity, until a deafening screech took hold over the air of quietus in its place; and in the same moment, the waters upsurged in the shape of a towering waterspout surrounded with the dust left behind by the demolished bridge, drenching even the streets beyond the reaches of the river in its volatile form, a mere taste of the onslaught to follow in the form of giant shards of what appeared to be ice piercing outwards from every angle of the waterspout, intent on inflicting widespread devastation across the entire city that would endanger far more than Dresden and Augustus' assassin alone. A few of the shards, as though they too were sentient, aligned themselves in the air to pierce Dresden from every angle, while about several of them raced toward the balcony where Augustus' assassin stood; and even were this not to suffice in eliminating Augustus' foes, the waterspout conjured its weapons at a continuous rate, and another deliberate formation of shards would surely follow.
As the whirlwind of dust continued to expand, so too did the waterspout it had encompassed in full. Whether the vestiges of the Golem had imbibed whatever power remained of the great giant in its death, or Augustus had somehow taken command of the entire river before his supposed downfall, there was little evidence to confirm either possibility. Controlling the situation, at this point, had become imperative now more than ever.
"Hahaha, did you see tha- Of course nobody saw it, who am I talking to?", Basillia said to herself aloud, at first in a cheer and then with an increasingly growing feeling that she was going stir crazy. Too many boring nobles, not enough Quincy shenanigans , she rationalized in her head. Though the troubles she had leaped into were far from finished. Her impeccable sight caught onto it with a glance, and quickly earned her full attention. Spears of ice were being flung in every which way by something down at the ruins of the bridge. A death knell from old August, he couldn't have survived... right?
Now was not the time to contemplate, she had already made herself a target, a fact made crystal clear by the gigantic shards heading right towards her. Her right arm was thrown up, and the left quickly rose to support it, her remaining arrows loosed not a moment later. Like before they were to be guided with her unique applications of Hirenkyaku only for one of them to barrel through a single spear of ice. As rare as conflict was for a Quincy so well masqueraded these days, Basillia had become somewhat rusty, her reactions were slower than her peak and it had cost her an arrow. The second found itself in better circumstances, manifesting on the flank of the ice. It flew, piercing through one and embedding itself in a second.
There was no time to manifest more arrows, hers were exceedingly slow to construct, especially in a place so loose on Reishi particles. Instead she was left to employ a favourite practice: evasion. The first shard was an easy affair as it missed on its own trajectory, instead smashing into a wall beneath the balcony. The second seemed to phase right through Basillia, quashing an afterimage before it barreled through the wooden doors that had sat behind her, the shard traveled some distance into the palatial hallway before it came to a halt with the screech of marble and shattering ice. By the third Basillia was clearly playing. She didn't dodge the shard, she caught it in the grasp of her hand.
In an instant her forearm lit up like a Christmas tree, her veins ablaze with Reishi. Her strength boosted far beyond that of a Human, she'd stopped the momentum of the spear in a snap, her fingers having created visible creases in its form from the force. "Hah! Perfec-", her cheer was cut short, the fourth whirled past her like a drill. A cut opened on her cheek from the sheer drive of the thing and as her senses recollected themselves she was tuned in to the feeling of something running down her arm.
Her gaze cast down to find a chunk of her right arm had been cleaved clean off. It bled profusely and she was hard pressed to tell just how deep the wound could've been, though she could still move the arm. "J-just play it off Basi, you're fine, you didn't miscount, they clearly shot an extra", she spoke to herself in bemusement. She removed the sleeve that covered her left forearm and turned it into a makeshift bandage, though the white was a poor mask for the blood that quickly soaked into it.
By now voices could be heard inside the castle, the guests, or the guards, were tuning into what had just happened. "Well, can't stay here now!", the young looking woman rushed forward, a step on the stone baluster before she leaped into the air and into the grasp of Hirenkyaku.
Dresden was caught off-guard as the river erupted and a sheet of water slapped into him, and swore heavily in Russian as ice was thrown in all directions but a mere instant later. There was barely anytime to react, but he widened his stance and raised his left arm anyway. If the shards were allowed to destroy the city, not only would his mission be compromised due to the supernatural interference, but there was a high chance that he himself would be blamed for what happened. In the back of his mind there was also the grim awareness that dozens, if not hundreds were in jeopardy, but it was not his personal priority in this case. He would simply try to minimize the damage.
Years of intense training had molded his skill as a Quincy, and his connection to the Reishi in the world around him had strengthened under the threat of extinction. Grasping at gossamer threads of nearly imperceptible energy, he had found that he possessed a unique ability unknown to almost all of the other Quincy he had encountered throughout his life. He was able to send a charge of Reishi into an object from a distance, and this highly compressed spirit energy could be ignited in order to cause a combustive reaction. Although it was difficult to seek out the channels of connection, as it was highly intuitive and almost at a subconscious level of will, once established a charge could be formed in an instant. After that, it was only a matter of accurately hitting the object in question with a Heilig Pfiel in order to detonate it. The most impressive aspect of this ability, however, was not that he could almost instantly form a charge within the objects, but that he could form hundreds. As long as the objects were within range, it did not matter how many there were, he could bring them down.
And that was what he intended now as he stood motionless, seeking out channels and preparing to send bolts of Reishi after them to ignite as many of the shards of ice as he could.
But at that moment he realized he had been surrounded on all sides by a mass of glinting projectiles that hung in the air. Before he could move they closed in on him, impaling him from all directions to form a chrysalis of ice. A stain of dark liquid seeped from the center of the grotesque sculpture, no doubt the red warmth of blood. And there was no movement.
The waterspout let out another primal cry as if celebrating what it saw as a victory. As the continuous rain of icy shards continued their devastation upon the entire city, another strategically aligned wave of shards—this time numbering in the dozens—made their way to the speeding Basillia, just as to be expected. Nothing less than banishing the whirlwind of destruction would cease its onslaught, but doing so without merely worsening the situation even further required an effort perhaps beyond the capabilities of Augustus' assailants.
With the threat of Basillia dealt with for the moment, it was time to address Dresden yet again, or whatever remained of his lifeless body. With another deafening screech, the waterspout fired off yet another deliberate volley of tiny ice shards numbering in the hundreds, intent on erasing all traces of the Quincy or perhaps feeding off of his flesh to spread its influence even further and heralding an even greater cataclysm. But alas, as every one of these projectiles were eliminated entirely by what appeared to be a shower of glimmering white Heilig Pheil descending from above. With one arrow for every shard the waterspout unleashed toward Dresden's body, the rain of Heilig Pheil soundly halted any progress the waterspout had made over its enemy, and even its attempt to intensify the rate of which the shards flew from its body proved all for naught in stopping the sheer number of Heilig Pheil, which, too, were growing ever more numbered to compensate. The innumerable outbursts of light as arrow met ice would have all but blinded a careless onlooker.
The futility of its attack all too obvious, the waterspout ceased its concentrated assault as if to observe the source of this unanticipated interruption. And before Dresden's enshrouded body descended a single woman clad in a hooded black robe, a wooden bow tightly held in her tan-colored hand. As she rose her head to glance upward at the monstrosity of nature before her, she narrowed her amber eyes in a look of boldness; it was clear she had some semblance of what had transpired to lead up to this point, as well as the heavy death toll that would wound her conscience had she not prevented it all with her own power alone. To her, London was more than a city within which she resided—it was the home of her allies and the place where she had brought them together, an Eden in every sense as far as her life was concerned.
“This is hardly the time for a moment of romanticism, would you not agree?” spoke a similarly cloaked woman as she slowly clapped in the direction of her partner and approached from the side, walking above the air as though she were on land. The hood of her robe was worn over much of her face, and all one could make out was her long black fringe and the wide simper on her lightly toned face. “Still, you are deserving of some accolade.”
“What of the other Quincy?” the amber-eyed woman plainly asked whilst her gaze was still locked on the waterspout, choosing to ignore her partner's remark.
The black-haired woman tilted her head slightly. “Well, that...” At that moment, dozens of ice shards zipped past the duo in the direction of the waterspout—or more specifically, the ice shards it continued to fire off in every other direction as it continued to leave the duo undisturbed. With perfect accuracy, each of the dozen shards collided with respective targets and triggered eruptions of ice chunks falling below the river; but delaying the assault with this pointless counteraction was not the black-haired woman's intention, for those dozen shards had in fact been the same shards the waterspout had aimed at Basillia moments before, allowing the Quincy to resume her path toward the battlefield unhindered. Following this, the black-haired woman let out a quiet sigh. “Now then, shall we put an end to this madness?”
“I intend to,” sternly replied the amber-eyed woman as she reached for a circular, golden device buckled to her robe at the hip. As she did so, however, the waterspout, having now acknowledged her intentions, spewed forth a small wave of larger shards at her and her partner alike. At this, her eyes widened with surprise. Looking toward her partner for the first time since both had arrived, she shouted, “Eriphyla!”
And for the first time since both had arrived, the amber-eyed woman's partner, Eriphyla, turned to face the waterspout, her lighthearted smile still clearly present. “Do you need to ask? It does, after all, venture my life as well... Ichchha.” Raising both of her hands, Eriphyla proceeded to make seemingly random motions in the air, and any shard mere inches away from colliding with either of the two was obliterated as though it had never existed at all by what may have been an invisible disk of sorts acting as a barrier. Soon, even the randomly launched shards were destroyed by similar objects before they could stretch beyond the river. At this point, Eriphyla's supposedly random hand motions were made much too quickly for any regular human to follow. A far cry from erecting a conventional barrier, Eriphyla had invoked multiple defenses to repel only a single shard each; and such a technique clearly required Eriphyla's constant direction of each and every one of them to successfully nullify the entire onslaught. Even with the hefty amount of effort such an inefficient solution would require, Eriphyla's smile simply widened with excitement. “I must say, however, this is far more enjoyable than I could ever express without tarnishing my visage of magnanimity.”
But the waterspout would not forfeit to the might of this duo so easily. And as if to simply prove Eriphyla's naivete, streams of dust broke off from the whirlwind which coated the waterspout and advanced beyond the river at a startling speed, intent on reaching where the shards could not and causing further devastation upon the surroundings. Even the unseen disks of protection, in their tiny and feeble form, would have no hope of stopping so many particles at once.
“Damn,” Ichchha muttered as she attempted to leave her position to intercept the rogue dust clouds, only to be stopped by another one of Eriphyla's invisible defenses. “Let me go, now.” Her irritation was clearly evident in her expression despite her rather mild tone.
“Oh, hush, Checha,” playfully replied Eriphyla. “Did you not take it upon yourself to actually end the madness?” Eriphyla's eyes slowly shifted to the dust clouds, which were already tearing apart nearby buildings with their unnatural might. “Well... that is annoying.” Eriphyla completely lowered her right arm whilst still directing her defenses with her left arm, its motions now made so rapidly that the arm as a whole could barely be perceived at all. Opening her right palm and swinging her entire arm upwards, Eriphyla directed a gust of wind so profound that even the enchanted dust particles could not help being thrown high into the sky and swallowed directly back into the waterspout of whence they came; and yet, the gust of wind had comparatively minimal effect on the city and even the waters directly below Eriphyla. With the dust pacified for the moment, Eriphyla simply focused on defending the city from the threat the ice shards still posed while allowing Ichchha to act, hopefully ending the madness once and for all.
And act she did. With a quick swipe, Ichchha loosed her personal device from her robe and threw it slightly above her head. With the device left afloat by Ichchha's power, two of the small blue orbs embellishing the rims of the device broke off and fell before her eyes. With two quick flicks of her finger, she sent the orbs to opposite ends directly below and above the waterspout, hiding them from view. And within seconds, the waterspout completely erupted in the form of harmless waterdrops which inevitably drenched both Ichchha and Eriphyla. The giant dust cloud which was once in command of the waterspout was left unnaturally still, as if restrained by some unexplained force. Ichchha solemnly closed her eyes as she spoke the words to bring about the end.
And the cloud of dust, as if reality itself had rejected its existence, clustered and imploded with nothing left in its wake, not even a monumental eruption of energy to commemorate a victory. Catching the falling device she had used—which had somehow reclaimed the orbs it had lost—and reattaching it to her robe, Ichchha knew she had little time for reprieve; it was time to assess the damage wrought by the unnatural disaster, but not before tending to the seemingly fallen Quincy behind her, who had thankfully been spared any further harm thanks to Eriphyla's protection.
Eriphyla, on the other hand, simply clenched her dripping robe with disappointment while awaiting Basillia's arrival. “I could have settled for a victory without so much... wetting involved.”
"I know, right?", spoke that very Quincy in response. She had manifested from seemingly nowhere with no fanfare, and no evidence of having actually moved to that point. She had appeared to have materialized on the spot, and though she was in the corner of Eriphyla's eye now, she clearly hadn't been a fraction of a second ago. Ones senses would still deem Basillia to have been up in the air somewhere, though it would soon adjust like the world itself was correcting misinformation. What mattered was that she had arrived though, sitting in the air as one would the floor, with her legs crossed and her head peering forward to examine Eriphyla. There hadn't been much to make out beyond the features of her face. "I didn't know August was into the habit of collecting beautiful women, but we're all in agreement that I'm the prettiest, right?", she spoke with an air of false seriousness, perhaps a touch too light for the situation at hand.
“Such a naïve woman you are,” replied Eriphyla with a wide grin. “How can you speak so confidently... when true beauty lies underneath the veil?” Having said this, Eriphyla lowered the hood of her robe, allowing her long glossy black hair to flow freely in the air and fully displaying her radiating blue eyes. With her facial features no longer left to the imagination, she proceeded to boast her beauty by posing seductively.
Ichchha, on the other end, frowned as she realized the extent of damage Dresden had apparently sustained; aiding him as he was would clearly require sorcery beyond her own. Ichchha bobbed her head in Eriphyla's direction only to notice the latter's lackadaisical parade, which left the former almost at a loss for words. “E—Eriphyla, I could use... your assistance?”
"Oh, I like you!", Basillia replied laughing, it wasn't the response the had expected having grown so accustomed to the favour currying that everyone did knowing that she represented the House. But that made it all the better, that meant Eriphyla was genuine. "Hmm...", she sounded and her eyes squinted lightly, giving her a look of playful scrutiny as she looked over the woman a second time, this time with much more to be seen and that enticing pose to contend with.
"Okay, I'll admit, you're not half bad, especially those eyes; real risqué", she stated, her tone was complimentary as if to pretend her estimations weren't done with bias. But of course they were. "Still, you really can't contend with this, can you?", a rhetorical question as she dropped from her position in the air to stand properly on the ground, not a moment passed before she displayed a pose of her own, meant to accentuate those curves of hers which weren't hard to spot in the dress she wore. "I just look so pretty in pink, y'know", she continued. Her fashion had been rather elegant, if one ignored the blood soaked arm and the hastily tied sleeve that failed to plug the source.
Without much warning or ceremony, the structure of ice which stood behind the small group crumbled and collapsed into glittering glass chunks that skittered across the cobblestone, shamelessly interrupting the tasteless pageantry. The Quincy who should have been impaled by the cocoon of ice was curiously missing, and the only hint that he had been there was a bloodstained jacket lying on the ground. It was obvious that he had narrowly escaped death, and very narrowly at that.
In reality, Dresden had been able to realize two things before the shards had rushed towards him: the first was that the projectiles had moved seemingly of their own accord, and were directed towards him either by their will or the will of whatever had been controlling the effects. In other words, they were trained on to him like bullets from a sniper’s rifle. Second was that if he moved using hirenkyaku he would have contacted one of those shards directly, as he was enveloped on all sides. Still, he had demonstrated no small amount of prowess in the high-speed technique. In one smooth motion he had torn off his jacket to throw off the missiles of ice and sliced down with the saber he had drawn once more, this time expelling the shadows from it scabbard in a long, thin line of Schatten that was perpendicular to the ground, and with a single step he had vanished into the void. But there had been one minor complication.
In theory, Blut Arterie was meant to enhance the physical strength of a Quincy while on the offensive, but on a broader level it served to augment the sheer power of an attack. In other words, with considerable time and experience, one could learn to harness this innate ability in order to increase the force behind any attack, Heilig Pfiel included. Simplistic, perhaps, but effective nonetheless. This is what Dresden had been intending when the ice had surrounded him, and although he managed to evade most of the volley due to his speed which had also been increased by Arterie, one of the projectiles had struck him, spearing him through the right shoulder just beneath the clavicle. The injury had broken his focus, and he had entered Schatten without a clear path or direction.
Now, drifting somewhat aimlessly through the darkness, he began to feel himself be pulled this way and that. This was the danger inherent to the shadows: If one did not first clearly establish a line through the dark realm, they could easily become lost, and drift for an eternity.
Fortunately Dresden had enough of an itinerary to surmise his location and piece a shaky route back together, but as a result of the delay, he had no idea how long he had been gone from the physical world. It could have been a mere second, a minute, or even a day.
He reached out his hand and, suddenly, was hovering in mid-air. Disoriented and unable to find his footing in that brief amount of time, he dropped from the sky like a rock and was barely able to activate Blut Vene before slamming into the ground. The impact left a small crater, and he got to his feet somewhat shakily.
He found he was standing on the street only a short distance from where he had disappeared to begin with. The storm of ice had luckily subsided, and three powerful beings were watching him, one of whom he recognized as the consort of the Viscount of Simonis. Considering her presence, he could safely assume the other two ladies were Quincy as well, or others of the spiritually empowered. Each side eyed each other warily for a moment, and the silence quickly grew awkward.
“Good evening, miladies,” he said, clearing his throat. “If you’ll excuse me, I just came for my coat.” He picked up the perforated scrap of cloth in a gesture that resembled a bow, pressing a hand to his bleeding chest as his Ransotengai slowly began to close the wound. He noticed the other Quincy had been wounded as well, and suddenly realized how many questions he had left to ask her.
“Oh, well... never mind?” murmured Ichchha, too quietly for anyone to hear. Now more perturbed than ever, she simply gave the “resurrected” Dresden a blank, prolonged stare before glancing at Eriphyla as if expecting an explanation from her former mentor.
“Why, of course, Checha,” answered Eriphyla, giggling. “That coffin of sleet was indeed lacking of any life whatsoever. Or have you forgotten that you, too, are a Nefas able to perceive the soul of another being?”
Once again choosing to ignore her partner's mockery, Ichchha cleared her throat. “Regardless, I do believe all of us could benefit from some form of explanation.” Despite the fame her entire collective had accumulated throughout all of London, Ichchha considered that perhaps these two Quincy did not recognize her underneath the mask of her robe, assuming they were aware of Diluculum Aeternus at all; but introducing herself could best wait for a more fitting moment.
"Well Stiff here is just one big ball of awkward, its a long family tradition they tell me", remarked Basillia with a few falsely wizened nods of her head, pretending to be serious. She'd given up her previous pose with lack of a reply from her opposite competitor and adopted a more relaxed posture, propping herself up lazy against whatever backdrop she found first. "Le'see..."
"Old August there was a big player in something, had the attention of the House and everything, which is either really bad or really good", she started her own little explanation of the situation with a shrug. "It can be hard to tell".
"Anyway, I was asked to stick by him and the Viscount, officially so they could curry favour with the House, but in the big dark spooky closet, I was supposed to help August open the Viscount to the spiritual world", the Hellenic woman continued her explanation with a dreary tone of disinterest, making her way through what was apparently a fairly common occurrence for a member of House Basileios these days.
"Couple days of that and the ball happened, next thing you know the Stiff here hits it off with August, London Bridge falls down, and I hadn't shot anyone in three weeks", she paused for a moment, going back over what she'd just said, as if expecting strange looks. She shrugged again before her attempt to explain. "What? You're Quincy too, right? You gotta know that feeling when you just have to shoot a Heilig Pfeil".
Somehow Basillia felt like she was only digging herself deeper with that though.
“Pardon my saying so, but I doubt there is anything that needs to be explained.” Dresden answered coolly. “There was a perceived threat and we all reacted accordingly.” He frowned. He had heard the word “Nefas” mentioned by one of the women, and he had every reason to suspect they had shared some form of camaraderie to Augustus.
“But you are right, one thing should be explained; namely, who are you?” And what reason do I have to trust you? He added silently.
Ichchha breathed a quiet sigh of relief. This was all clearly the doing of a rather powerful Nefas in her eyes, and rogue Nefas were exceptionally rare to come by; but at least she could be sure that it was not the doing of a certain “vigilante” she was all too familiar with. “You have my thanks,” Ichchha expressed to Basillia, her voice unmoved but her gratitude genuine. “Regardless of whatever you may know, I think I speak for all of us in saying that we are indebted to you. I apologize for not arriving sooner.” Ichchha did silently lament that the Nefas had been killed before she could question him and subsequently be made aware of his intentions and affiliation, if any; but ultimately, such work was her responsibility alone as the leader of Diluculum Aeternus, and Basillia had only done what any ignorant bystander would have had they similar capabilities.
Turning to face the grounded Dresden, Ichchha lowered her hood, showing that she was in fact as human as these two Quincy, lacking even the radiant eyes indicative of a Nefas. “I am Ichchha-un-Idika Edha Guha Thakurta. I lead Diluculum Aeternus, a sort of gathering between the spiritually inclined who have tasked themselves with London's protection against similarly empowered entities.” A largely incomplete description, she thought, but it would have to suffice for now; it was more important to convince these strangers that she could be trusted, and that she was as much a victim as they were. “You are both... Quincy, yes? Please tell me, do you know anything of a 'Nefas?”
Diluculum Aeternus, Dresden was familiar with the name, and vaguely he recalled as many facts as he could about the organization. It had been many, many years since he had operated as a member of the Bund, but he did know that the two groups had tried their best to remain distant from one another. As such he was not knowledgeable on the particulars, to his own discredit.
"Ah, I see." he started. "Please excuse my former brusqueness, I was unaware of your intentions." He still was, in fact, but now his mind was working quickly, beginning to piece together the information he had gathered in order to form a more cohesive explanation for everything that had happened that night. He had heard and accepted the other Quincy's alibis, but he doubted it was the whole story. Perhaps she too had been involved in the kidnapping of the Countess of Yunevich. And since the leader of Diluculum Aeternus and her accomplice were also Nefas, he gathered, they were also suspects in aiding Augustus, although that made little sense. He was beginning to think that the two incidents, the abduction of the Countess and the arrival of the other two Nefas, were largely unrelated events.
"I am Iven Petrov, a Quincy as you rightly surmised." he started, trying to avoid stating anything that might jeopardize his mission. "And was tasked with the protection of a certain noble when the Nefas attacked. His name was Augustus Dufort, as..." he realized he could not recall the name of the other Quincy, which served only to irritate him as a rather major point of incompetence. "this generous lady has already pointed out." he finished, feeling his face burn slightly from embarrassment. He told himself that it was simply from his own fumbling words, but in reality he had suddenly been keenly made aware of the other Quincy's beauty when he had looked at her for the first time without distraction. She was beautiful, which he promptly categorized as being a warning sign. Beautiful women, he knew, could not be trusted. As he turned his attention to the two Nefas, he realized with a sinking feeling that he was doomed.
"Iven... Ic- yeah, mhmm, nice name", Iven had been easy enough to replicate but even just hearing Ichchha's had left Basillia a little dumbstruck. She played it off, of course but she dreaded the idea of ever seeing that written down somewhere. "Well, I'm Basillia Basilica, Basi for short", the introduction was casual and furthered by the seeming detachment with how she referred to her own name. In the back of her mind she had also been going over the presented question. Nefas. It was a word only ever spoken of in hushed tones within the House, they were obviously important though that was all Basillia knew and her knowledge of the beings extended little further than the events that had transpired today, so she remained quiet on that particular note. Silence, after all, spoke for itself.
Eriphyla, who had been longingly gazing at the river for some time, turned her attention to the other three. “And you may call me Eriphyla, or whatever suits your fancy,” she spoke. “As you may have presumed, Checha and I happen to be Nefas, as are many of our companions of Diluculum Aeternus; but no, by no means did we play any part in orchestrating this act of barbarism. If it is answers you seek, then what better woman to ask than I, who happens to be one of the first Nefas ever created?”
In truth, Eriphyla was fully aware of the limited time she and Ichchha had to converse with these two Quincy before they were inevitably interrupted, but she at least had a moment to provide a brief summary of Nefas history. “Now then, why are we known as 'Nefas'? Notwithstanding the jaundiced connotations of that term, we are the result of an ancient pact made between a mortal man and a certain... entity we've all yet to fully understand. That very man, who would become the first Nefas, founded a circle known as Diluculum Sanctus—a group of men and women who worshiped this entity as a Goddess and were blessed with her power in turn, and I was among them. In the olden days, Nefas were simply known as Origines Sanctimoniae, a testament to our high esteem which veiled the hatred of our ignorant human spectators, whom knew us as Nefas. That disparity ended once Diluculum Sanctus' most salient members were all infected by a plague wrought by the very Goddess we had all worshiped; perhaps it was an act of divine punishment, but even I cannot recall the truth. Some Nefas who were left to tell the tall of the Goddess' retribution vowed to one day restore the circle stripped bare of its pioneers, whilst others began to fear the Goddess as a scourge upon humanity and indulged themselves in tasteless debauchery or gallant heroism. In defiance of the Goddess' will, one particular woman, the sole survivor of the scourge, swore revenge against the Goddess and Her children, and to this day her undying resolve is a blight to us all. Grim, perhaps, but were it not for her doing, Diluculum Aeternus could never have come to be, for it is that very fear which had, in the end, united us all to stand against her.”
The terminology bombarded Dresden, and even though he was familiar with the basic composition and purpose of Diluculum Sanctus it was difficult to follow all of what the woman—whose name had escaped him aside from “Checha,” which was obviously too informal to be of any use— explained. After she finished speaking there was a somewhat awkward moment of silence between them all, which prompted him to clear his throat and fill the silence with a request to clarify.
“And if I may venture to ask,” he began, “who is this ‘one particular woman’ you are referring to precisely; and if it does not seem too ostentatious of me, what does it have to do with us Quincy? I cannot speak for the lady here, but I for one am not exactly interested in becoming involved in a civil war. As I have already stressed, the young master Dufort initiated the attack and we simply reacted accordingly. That is the extent of my involvement in so far as Nefas are concerned.”
As she considered Dresden's question, Ichchha slowly narrowed her eyes in reminiscence. She had incidentally been reminded of her first meeting with a number of Nefas leaders she had assembled in her attempt to found Diluculum Aeternus, and how she was disregarded for belonging to an “uninvolved” race. Of course, she had eventually succeeded in swaying their hearts to believe in her regardless of her Quincy heritage; it was her belief that they could find common ground as human beings and look beyond their spiritual inclinations.
“Randa Primarosa is the woman of whom I refer to,” replied Eriphyla to Dresden, “although Checha along with most other youths would know her as 'Feronia.' You are unlikely to ever encounter her, assuming she yet lives, so I—”
“Yes,” interjected Ichchha, “I created Diluculum Aeternus to protect innocent Nefas against Feronia, a woman blinded by her own hatred of Velia Agostinha Vivax, the woman we know as our Goddess. I have not seen nor heard of Feronia in over a century, so I do not know of her whereabouts at present; but I am certain that she had no involvement in any of this, so...”
Ichchha took a deep breath as she prepared to speak something similar to what she had told the Nefas leaders. “I am a Quincy and a Nefas, but I was born as only the former. The Nefas who are now my allies once refused my assistance because of what I am—I had no business in meddling with Nefas affairs, they told me. I did not care, for I had once encountered Feronia in battle prior to that day and knew that I had to stop her—not for the sake of Nefas, no, but for the sake of innocent human lives, Nefas in nature or not. You may be adamant in distancing yourself from our kind now that you know of our predicament, but you must now already know how difficult it can be to identify a Nefas. Suppose the woman I mentioned, Feronia, confronted a cohort of yours you thought as nothing more than an ignorant, powerless human, yet actually happened to be a Nefas of Diluculum Aeternus. Would you, as a Quincy, merely abandon your ally to a painful demise, or would you stand and fight out of your own human affection for this ally? If so, I would need to protect you, because in your selflessness you would have made an enemy of Feronia as well—you would have chosen your side then and there without even knowing it. If you truly seek nothing to do with us or our enemies, your only discourse is to put down your bow and look away should you ever witness a delinquent blessed with supernatural power again, even if that were to mean abandoning the lives of innocent humans... or ostensible companions of yours. Feronia may have been uninvolved to my knowledge, but next time you may not be so fortunate.”
"So, 'come with me if you want to live', huh", Basillia remarked somewhat amused. The discussion did little to affect her, though she knew fairly little on the topic of deities that weren't fictional or super powerful Nefas, her casual demeanour remained because all of this was little more than a game to her. It was a whim that made her attack Augustus, just as a whim brought her to the court of the Viscount. She could easily leave someone to die as help them. The possibility of running into a threat she couldn't handle didn't so much as cross her mind.
"Life is too short to worry about running into random super Nefases... Nefasi... Nefi?", the female Quincy trailed off as she tried to drum up the proper way to refer to a group of Nefas. Though she was quick to give up in favour of returning to the original subject. "Anyway, we'd be just as likely to run into a Jiangshi or Rokurokubi as we are this 'Feronia', I don't think we really need to fret over it that much, do we?"
“If Feronia were our only concern,” replied Ichchha, “your words would have some degree of merit, Basillia; however, as I have mentioned, Feronia is irrelevant at present. What is more important is that a Nefas-employing organization that has escaped our awareness may be acting against us, along with humanity in general, perhaps. If this is true, you have unknowingly opposed this organization already—you have already chosen your enemies. Knowing this, do you intend—”
“If I may intrude, Checha,” interjected Eriphyla with an exasperated sigh, “we only have so much time to fraternize, as pleasant as it is to waste one's breath after a bridge has collapsed and a Nefas—”
“Is everyone finished... prattling amongst themselves?”
The unfamiliar voice echoed from seemingly every direction without any plausible source other than the sudden presence of a ferocious, chilling blizzard which rode the winds and quickly concealed everything from the view of each of the spiritual warriors, themselves included. When the storm subsided, there stood Glacies Fidus, levitating in the air at a distance from those who could clearly see him. He carefully eyed Eriphyla, Basillia and Dresden with a look that seemed to drip with scorn and disinterest. Although he had not personally met a couple of them, his Bibliotheca was much too vast to have not encompassed details of even their existence. “Zwie, Basillia Basilica... Eriphyla.” Glacies spoke that last name with a particular growl, and as he did so he violently swung his tail downward, calling a violent gust of wind. “Dare I call this... a bevy of knaves?” As he locked eyes with Ichchha, however, his glare was noticeably less hostile.
“... Evidently not, since I had not yet finished speaking,” spoke Eriphyla with a jokingly offended glare at Glacies, having answered his original question. “Fie, lord Glacies, could you not have arrived at a less inopportune moment!?”
“Know your place, cur,” hissed Glacies in response without looking away from Ichchha. “I have no intrigue in your tepid yak, nor will I ever. My business is such that I wish to bring to your master, and I will do so once my Shinigami has joined me. For whatever may have transpired here, I could not care less.”
“G—Glacies?” stuttered Ichchha, somewhat taken aback under Glacies' sharp glare. His appearance, however was not overly surprising for her, as she was already aware that he had been constantly observing her for some time and had expected a few more spiritual beings to arrive under the lure of the skirmish. "Was there something you wished to discuss?"
"Again, I await the arrival of a certain Shinigami." Glacies lay himself down in midair as if preparing to fall asleep. "If you would prefer, simply pretend that I did not appear before you until the right moment."
"Wasn't I waiting for you?" Came a response from a nearby bench. A blue haired man sat there in a set of black robes, eating a piece of Onigiri. He had arrived less than a minute earlier, but he enjoyed getting the little rise out of people. Twas one of the few joys he had. Then turning to the rest of the people in the area who could probably see him "Greetings people who are probably not dead, I greet you from this bench here. The human world was not so messy last time I was here. Also I'm here because the dog asked me to be here."
Eriphyla simply shrugged her shoulders without glancing at Chitose, her expression ever casual. “Ah, another visitor!” she sarcastically remarked. “A cloaked 'Shinigami,' no doubt; what a novel specimen in this fine city! Now then, lord Glacies, if you have finished impersonating a sputtering statue, I may as well inform you that we are short on time, so be quick in stating your business with Checha.”
“Do not plead me do what is already in my nature, knave,” growled Glacies as he rose up. “Besides, I have little intention of parading around a realm whose worth I have already made my own for longer than I must.”
“We still must repair the damage inflicted upon the city before all else,” spoke Ichchha in her usual, stern tone, having regained her composure. “Actually, I was hoping that you and that Shinigami could assist us in that endeavor? If it would not be too troubling, of course.”
“That infernal woman of yours should be more than capable enough to do so on her own in an instant, but...” Glacies paused as his eyes smoothly trailed upon the river, noting the lack of a bridge. “As they are, my powers are unsuited to restore things as they once were; but if a river without a bridge is so maddening to your conscience, I will wait.” Having said this, Glacies lay down again, glaring at Eriphyla with his one eye left open.
"Everybody is just crawling out of the woodwork now, eh?", a spiritually powerful talking dog and a Shinigami were the latest additions to the roster that Basillia could see. It wasn't too surprising to her to see Glacies as it could've been. She'd ran into all kinds of creatures under the dictations of the House. As a former member of Yhwach's inner circle the weirdness she'd seen only grew more common. There was the tiniest expression of a sigh from her upon realizing that. Geez, how jaded do you have to be to find a talkin' dog generic?, on that thought Basillia found herself slapping her cheeks in order to perk herself up. "So! I didn't think I had dog fans, how's that work?"
Glacies intensely glared into Basillia's eyes at the mention of a dog. “A dog, you say?” he muttered as his intensified Reiatsu burdened the atmosphere once more. "Need I show you by my own hand how very distant you are from the truth?”
Eriphyla rolled her eyes with a wide grin on her face. “Have my eyes forsaken me, or do you actually have no hand to speak of?” Regardless of the severity of any situation, angering the exhalted founder was a pleasure of Eriphyla's that she would rarely miss an opportunity to indulge in, even during her time in Diluculum Sanctus. “And as he refuses to share with us the ingenuity of dog-style espionage, I will answer your question by saying that lord Glacies here takes his reading... very seriously.” She deliberately neglected to repair the bridge with whatever power she possessed, and not only to anger Glacies even further—the lot of them would have a far more pressing matter to tend at any moment, evident by the lack of any Animae Casi in the area generated from a recently fallen Nefas. Granted, her own senses were not quite thorough enough to immediately detect a newly-born Anima Casus in most cases, and she also considered that the Nefas had perhaps already escaped, unbeknownst to everyone. Only time would tell.
Zwie. The word rang in Dresden’s ears as he glared silently at the creature— Glacies, before him. It was absurd to think that he had been recognized so quickly. He had spent the greater half of a century in isolation, and had assumed that name was dead and buried along with the rest of his past. But here it was again, mocking him with the grinning face of a dog. This was coupled with the intense unease he already felt with the sudden appearance of the Soul Reaper alone; a race that he had avoided contact with as much as possible. If the animal was the accomplice of the black-robed vulture, then he had even less reason to trust him. His agitation exacerbated the pain in his shoulder, and he gripped it more tightly as the other five continued a conversation he had little interest in. He needed to return to the palace and ensure that the Countess was safe, and wondered if he could slip away without anyone’s notice.
But just then, something caught his attention on the bank of the river. He made his way over to it, making sure his pace was unhurried and unsuspicious, and knelt down where the street had once contacted the bridge. The rubble protruded from the side of the bank, slabs of grey rock hanging precariously over the edge. There was something here, however, and though it was impossible to see any amount of detail in the murky lights of distant street lamps, he could sense the thin presence drawing him closer. The remnants of some unknown energy were littered here and there across the ground. He drew the fingers of his free hand through the dirt and examined the sample closely in his palm. It was a sensation he could not place, and he frowned deeply. What is this?
“If you wish me to kill you so eagerly, you need only say so... Eriphyla,” spat Glacies as his Reiatsu grew ever more intense.
Eriphyla closed her eyes and quietly sighed, but her smile still indicated a carefree disposition. “Kill me, you say? I'm afraid you are a bit lacking of the aptitude for such a task, but nevertheless your gratuitous vanity flutters my heart; albeit you may choke on it one day.” Having said this, Eriphyla opened her eyes once more, unveiling the profoundly luminous properties they had suddenly acquired. “Or is that your pride can only permit you to plead for a merciful end by my hand... with a sly tongue?”
With a swift burst of Volatus, Ichchha stepped in between the two before they could conceivably come to blows. Bearing witness to her partner's abrasiveness before the once-exalted founder had left her with a slight blush on her otherwise stern face; despite her efforts to leave a lasting good impression on the other Quincy, she had undoubtedly failed in more ways than one even if she was not at all to blame for it. “That is enough, both of you. Did you yourself not say that we are short on time, Eriphyla?”
“Well, he started it,” murmured Eriphyla as she turned away, pouting.
“You may be my brother's successor,” spoke Glacies in a more docile tone, “but do not think you can command me, Ichchha.”
“Of course,” replied Ichchha, lowering her head to conceal her light smile; it had been the first time Glacies had acknowledged her as his brother's successor. “I apologize."
Although Glacies seemed to have calmed considerably, his Reiatsu unsuitably permeated the air in the form of a thick blizzard, prompting him to sniff the air. "What is this?" he muttered to himself.
“Is there... something wrong, Glacies?” asked Ichchha, left somewhat nervous by the blizzard despite her ability to withstand such powerful Reiatsu. At this point, the blizzard had grown so intense that she could no longer see anything in front of herself, and she reasoned the others were likely in a similar predicament
“Yes, indeed. How awk. My powers are not normally so volatile, unless... I am not the source at all, in a sense.”
“That one... is powerful.”
“Indeed, his powers are truly enriching... for us.”
“And how so very unfortunate... for them.”
The eerie whispers flowing along with the currents of his very own blizzard, as though they were taunting him, invoked Glacies' utmost ire, and yet his Reiatsu remained seemingly out of his control, assuming what lay before him was truly the result of his Reiatsu; but the visitants had undoubtedly spoken to him using one of his own techniques. “They're taunting me,” he growled.
Meanwhile, as the voices continued to occupy the attention of those in the air with seemingly random remarks, the energy Dresden had detected could suddenly be felt all around him, isolated from Glacies' “possessed” Reiatsu; but again, little could be seen in such poorly lit conditions, especially when smothered by such a thick blizzard. A phantasmic, armored hand reached out from behind Dresden, wielding a blade much similar to that possessed the knights of Augustus; the owner of the hand remained almost entirely obscured by the flowing blanket of snow, but that did not stop him from swinging his blade in an effort to behead his hopefully oblivious target in one fell swoop.
As Dresden had almost been thrown off balance at the release of the powerful storm of spiritual pressure, he was not in a position to counter the unseen attack, although he felt it. The blade bit into his neck, and would have gone in deeply if he had not already been on-guard and utilizing his Blut. He drew his saber in an instant and slashed towards the direction of his unseen opponent, but the arm had already withdrawn into the canvas of white, sliding the sword across and away from his skin in the process. Dresden’s brow furrowed as he tried to peer into the wall of snow and wind around him. Visibility, he knew, was all but lost. He closed his eyes for a moment to focus himself, and projected his senses outwards, searching for a means to escape. If he could break free from the blanket of snow, he would be able to gain some clearance and thus a better view of the situation. And so with that goal in mind, he leaped from the edge of the short cliff where he had been standing and, attempting to fix the air beneath his feet, made his way towards the river and out of the storm. Due to the sheer force of the blizzard he was unable to tap into the spinning currents of spiritual energy in order to move with any amount of high-speed, at least easily, and it was taking a great amount of concentration just to maintain his stability. The strange energy was still wound tightly about him, although he had recognized the snowstorm itself as mainly being a product of one of the Soul Reapers, and he cautiously reformed his spirit weapon on his left arm as he waited for his adversary’s next move. He hoped what he was feeling did not mean what he thought it did, and he grit his teeth in exasperation as he threw himself towards the outer wall of the blizzard.
"Basillia? Eriphyla!?" Isolated and blind within seemingly boundless blizzard, Ichchha, levitating over the river, called out to the companions she reasoned were in a similar predicament, to no immediate avail. Just as she began to shut her eyes to the cold, beginning a profound meditation, the fleeing Dresden promptly alerted her upon reaching a visible distance beside her. With little time to think in such a precarious situation, Ichchha turned and let loose a single arrow from her bow, aimed at the man she had recognized as Dresden far too late. "Shit."
She had been right on her assumption for at least one of the other parties wrapped up in the deathly cold storm. Basillia, who had been casually rolling along until now, found herself fighting back the chattering of her own teeth as the icy weather quickly overwhelmed her constitution. Despite her sun bathed complexion she had never been one for extreme weather, be it hot or cold, not that the ample cleavage and high quality fabric that made up her dress offered much in the way of assistance. To add to things, the blizzard was loud, almost obnoxiously so and would have dulled her vision in obscurity if it hadn't been for the Reishi flooding her optic nerves. The curtains of whirling snow still impeded her sight to a fraction of its potential, but not so much as to leave her totally helpless. She looked and looked for those who had been close by moments ago to see neither hide nor hair of Eriphyla, Ichchha, and Dresden. Even the Shinigami and that talking canine were out of sight. She fell back on her Reikaku to feel out with her mind's eye instead. She could sense everyone's presence, even if she couldn't make them out clearly within the dense energies controlling the blizzard, and she caught on to one signal in particular that caused a notable twitch in one of her eyes.
"August!?", she exclaimed aloud to herself with a tone that could only be heard as incredulity. In her new found frustration she lost grip on some of the Reishi that had slowly been gathering under feet, little trudges of energy that had been stolen from the storm and were now fluttering back to the collective, had been forming underneath the petite woman ever since the blizzard picked up. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of her own annoyance, but to no avail. Instead she spoke out, sure that no one could hear in the midst of the frigid torrents. "Oi, you prissy uptight prick, you don't just get shot by me and get right back up, you lie down and feel honoured that Basillia of House Basileios put you in a ditch!", she complained with a rather impressive outburst. Though very casual as a person, Basillia had been taught, and taught well, to be at least relatively well-mannered at all times. Though as archery was the second best craft that she had honed, she was happy to let loose just this once.
"Augustus, you say!?" a feminine voice shouted from beside Basillia, loud enough for her to hear. Eriphyla emerged from that direction with her hands around her chest, her eyes wandering in every direction as though she were a child witnessing a blizzard for the first time. "Fascinating. I had sensed an unfamiliar presence among the fog, but to say that your foe is still alive... ah." Eriphyla shook her head. "Checha does not need my aid, to be sure. What say you we simply feign helplessness until she and the others end the battle in our favor?"
The Quincy had nearly leaped out of her skin, finding herself not as alone as she had previously thought. "Jesus Christ, Breastplate, how long have you been standing there?", her voice lit up with suspicion, carried above the howl of the blizzard. She wouldn't have made her previous outburst had she known Eriphyla was there. Having the mouth of a sailor was only fitting when you were alone, or so she had surmised in the back of her mind. But the topic of relaxing had been broached and could serve as ample fodder to forget what had been said previously. All she needed was the right... distraction.
"I don't see why not, I'm sure Stiff, and Miss Unpronounceable can take care of themselves", a hasty front of her usual casual approach to a discussion surfaced and she acted the part as if her suspicion, and her outbursts, had never happened. "It is freezing here though, I don't suppose you have a camp fire hidden in that bosom of yours, do you?"
“Actually… I do.” With a devious smile, Eriphyla placed a single hand on the center of her chest, radiating that segment of her breastplate in crimson. With the residue of the energy taking the form of glittery sparks upon the palm of her hand, Eriphyla waved her hand above her body to let the embers loose all around the two. As the embers fell straight through the blizzard and upon Eriphyla and Basillia, a fiery aura engulfed them, persisting around their bodies as if no blizzard were present at all. The gentle aura staved off the cold without doing harm to those it had enveloped. Following her spectacle, Eriphyla planted a single finger on her chin.
“Well, perhaps I may have gone a little too far with that if I intended to keep us hidden,” she murmured, pouting. “You should be wary of what you ask of me, dear; I might just do it without much thought, if only to make myself look good.”
The blizzard chilled even the Shinigami, despite the heavy clothing he wore over his standard uniform. But the distressing bit was the completely obscured landscape around him. He had no idea what had caused this weather change. But he wasn't going to stay defenseless. Raising his arms to the sides he said a short chant, before shouting Bakudo #13, Haiheki. With this, a swirling cloud of grey energy swirled up from the ground before creating an around 5 meter dome around Chitose. Haiheki was a low level barrier spell designed to protect Shinigami while they were resting. It wouldn't hold up under any sort of significant beating, but it did protect him from the blizzard a bit, and in the case that there was a threat within this blizzard, he'd have the time to actually respond before being struck, something that was needed in the case of zero visibility.
"There wasn't any precipitation forecasted today..." Chitose said as he drew his sword, waiting for something to happen.
Dresden sensed the arrow shooting towards him and in an instant had turned to intercept it. He braced his left arm as best as he could with his other hand, and presented only a smooth, round buckler made from spiritual silver to face the incoming attack. The arrow could not find purchase and instead ricocheted off its smooth surface, trailing off wildly before disappearing into the storm. He narrowed his eyes as he searched for the source of the assault, but it was impossible to see more than a few paces away due to the whirling, blinding snow. It had not seemed as though the attack’s origin had come from the same foe— namely the knight still hidden somewhere in the thundering cloud. Perhaps it had even been a so-called ally who had accidentally trained their weapon on him. But with his senses disoriented by the intensity of the weather, he could not know for certain either way. Someone, he knew, was close by.
Suppressing his own spiritual pressure so as to remain undetected, Dresden drew closer to the source of power nearest to him, proceeding with no small amount of caution. He steeled himself, priming his reflexes to react to whatever might come his way. He was alert, wary, but as the shape took form from the storm he could see that the outline was familiar to him. It was one of the women, the one whose name still eluded him. He felt slightly relieved, but still he did not relax.
“Good. Can you sense anything? My perception has been encumbered by this blasted storm.”
Chitose was waiting within his barrier, either for a concrete target, the blizzard to subside, or someone else to pop up. It was a good thing too, as an arrow glanced off the barrier, 3 inches from his face. "I hope that was on accident..."
Ichchha loudly cleared her throat as she lowered her bow and carefully approached Dresden until she was in full view, flushing red with embarrassment. Dresden's timely question had thankfully given her an opportunity to immediately address the ongoing threat while pretending she had not just made the most humiliating mistake in her life thus far. "Well, um... no," she quietly murmured, her voice almost lost in the storm. "But regardless, it would seem that... well..." she cleared her throat again before returning to her stern countenance. "We appear to be having similar problems. No matter what I try, I cannot find the others." She looked away, frantically searching for anything beyond the blizzard with her eyes alone. "Just... stay right there, please. My abilities alone should be enough to finish this."
The arrow she fired at Dresden had narrowly missed the mysterious Shinigami, indirectly alerting her to his position thanks to her Nefas powers. Nevertheless, approaching him would have to wait until she could be certain that no enemy was present nearby, using the decaying density of the blizzard to survey the lake from below. She paused and looked back at Dresden upon realizing that the blizzard was indeed beginning to settle, allowing her to barely make out the mysterious Shinigami at a distance behind Dresden. Dumbfounded and speechless, she stood gaping at the sudden clarity before collecting her thoughts.
"Can you see it?" she asked Dresden. "Our enemy seems to have something different in mind for—"
Before finishing her sentence, Ichchha deftly turned her head upon noticing the gleam of a suit of armor from the corner of her eye. She had barely the time to drop her bow and raise both hands in defense against the silver lance fast approaching between her eyes. Managing to grip the sides of the lance to avert a fatal injury, she could not resist the sheer force exerted by the disembodied suit of armor wielding the lance, its unrelenting thrust sending the both of them plummeting into the lake. Following the massive upheaval of water at the point of impact, there was only silence below. At this point, the blizzard had grown much too weak to smother the senses of those caught within it for any longer, allowing the entire gathering of spiritual beings to pinpoint the disturbance.
Eriphyla, on the other hand, passively eyed every minute detail without moving in the slightest. As Glacies' figure gradually peeked from the blizzard in the distance, she acknowledged him with a gesture while pointing to the lake. "My condolences, Lord Glacies, but, pray, would you bear the weight of my responsibilities?"
Glacies promptly returned a piercing glare, in the same instant dispersing the remnants of the blizzard in his territory with a powerful exertion of Reiatsu. "Do not be so lax, impertinent whore," he barked.
"Impertinent whore?" Eriphyla repeated, a clueless expression painted on her face. "I meant no innuendo in my words, Lord Glacies." She placed a finger on her chin. "And how at all did you ascertain any such vulgarity? I would not be so perplexed were I a man and you a woman, but alas..."
But alas, a blinding circle of light shone from within the lake before the two could formerly conclude their argument. From betwixt the circle, an armored hand pierced the water from below before oddly standing on its surface as though it were solid. Upon planting another hand on the surface of the water, a newly-arrived entity, a man in armor rather than a hollow knight, lifted his body from the depths until he stood on his two feet. Dregs of gore could vaguely be spotted beyond the visor of his armet. As he waved his hand to draw forth a rusted lance at odds with the brilliance of his armor, four similarly-clad knights emerged from the waters in a similar fashion, each and every one of them standing where would normally submerge. In a solemn manner, the resurrected Augustus merely directed his lance at his opposition in the air, a prelude of the enduring battle to come, as his loyal knights ascended until they stood face-to-face with Eriphyla and Basilica.
"Well, you sure know how to fill out a breastplate, Breastpla-", in the midst of her snide remark Basillia was alerted to the presence of their knightly friends. Her response was immediate and internal, as she had been gathering ambient Reishi from her surroundings for some time now. Her Reiryoku latched onto that energy and the two kinds of spiritual energy were molded together and turned into something a little more useful. Oh come on! she screamed internally as she came to realize that all the time she had spent amassing energy had only afforded her a single arrow. It was times like these that made her miss her work in the spiritual realms.
"Tch!", with no other recourse at hand, Basillia instead flung out a hand towards Eriphyla, and the two were immediately transported somewhere else on the bridge, some distance away from the knights. For a reflexive use of Hirenkyaku, Basillia was rather proud of how things had turned out, given the precariousness of their situation.
"So, Breastplate, remember what you said before, I don't suppose you can suddenly feed me Reishi, can you?", calling back to Eriphyla's prior feats with her radiating bosom, Basillia hoped to secure herself a safe stock of ammunition.
As the lance cut through the thinning blizzard, Dresden saw a flash of silver and watched as the two combatants plummeted towards the surface of the river. He jumped back instinctively, and continued his path back away from where Ichchha had been a moment before. Without knowing what had hit her, he decided it would be best to try and gain a better view of the situation, and thus he placed some distance between him and Ichchha, essentially abandoning her. Dresden’s shoulder still throbbed from his wound, and his landing on the street along the river’s bank was somewhat jarring. In reality he was only a short distance away from Eriphyla and Basillia, and he happened to overhear the last part of the latter’s comment. While Dresden had grown accustomed to hearing such perversities when surrounded by military men, he had not expected it from Basillia, and he missed a step. He stumbled to a stop and tried not to stare in disbelief, instead turning his attention to the five knights that had emerged from the surface of the river. The one who was missing his face, he assumed, was Augustus. Or, formerly Augustus. How exactly is he standing? Dresden questioned inwardly. He steadied his Spirit Weapon, training it on the enemies who had presented themselves before him, and waited for their inevitable attack as his mind tried to wrap around the method of Augustus’ “resurrection.” As if the summoned golem and torrent of water had not been enough to prove it, it was obvious that the Nefas held immeasurable power. Believing that they had won had clearly been a mistake.
Chitose had dispelled the barrier as the blizzard had begun to fade, both to conserve stamina and because it had served it's purpose. He still had one big issue though, Chitose didn't have the slightest idea what was going on. Someone had blown up a bridge, created a blizzard, shot an arrow at him, and now there were flying knights over the river. At least three of those things humans couldn't normally do, and to top it all off, the people he was here erstwhilely to meet had scattered all over the place with the appearance of said knights. With the sole exception of the dog, who was still angstily standing where he was, staring at the knights.
"I thought this was going to be a vacation... just let them talk to my sword and then relax for a while... what's next, a large group of hollows showing up?" he said to himself with a sigh. "I guess I should at least join up with the group I'm pretty sure isn't trying to kill me."
With that he moved, leaping up to the roof of a nearby building before running in the direction of the trio near the bridge, hopping from rooftop to rooftop til he leaped onto the bridge roughly between the injured man and the two woman. Addressing both groups, he simply asked, "Friends of yours?"
Upon quietly breathing a sigh, Glacies joined the others on the edge of the fallen bridge with a graceful leap landing him between Eriphyla and Basillia. In tandem, the four knights along with the supposed Augustus assembled in a deliberate formation along the opposing end.
"I may have said as much before," Glacies carefully began, "but whatever business you've to settle with that man in armor could not be less my concern. I wish to speak with Ichchha, nothing more than that."
"Really?" Eriphyla chimed, shrugging her shoulders. "I suspected as much, but I do need ask what matter of Shinigami you happen to have brought along with you."
Chitose gave her a small curtsy upon him being mentioned. "12th Seat, Twelfth Division Chitose Wasuchiru at your service Madame with the name I have no idea how to pronounce. As to what matter of Shinigami I am, Hopefully after this, a living one. Well, sorta living... But yeah, just following General Fido over here to meet Itchyya over there. Then the blizzard happened, and now your probably not friends... fun times..."
Eriphyla nodded repetitively at each word the Shinigmai spoke. "Ah, yes... yes, I understand. Well, then, perhaps we had all best be finished here with haste. To that end—"
"Such a relief you speak aught beyond dross for this one occasion," Glacies interrupted.
Eriphyla sighed. "Indeed, Lord Glacies. Now, where was I?"
Acknowledging Basllia's prior request, Eriphyla tightly clenched her palm in the air, a magnificent light booming within her grasp. By waving her glowing palm rhythmically in front of her, she had saturated the surrounding air with an utterly unimaginable amount of Reishi, sparkling wisps of blue flowing abundantly all around the group. Pactum Anima, a Nefas' primary internal energy, was naturally created by converting Reishi, and a Nefas at Eriphyla's level could easily revert her energy to its original state if she deemed it appropriate. Although the Nefas sorceress had weakened her own powers considerably in doing so, the Quincy would find their powers bolstered beyond comprehension.
But Glacies sprang swiftly into action before the others, leaping through the air and coming to a stop high above the assorted knights on the opposite end. Whilst Eriphyla was focus upon empowering the Quincy, the canine had taken liberties of his own with his Bibliotheca, summoning four pages each inscribed fully with Augustus' name and a spell familiar to Shinigami—Haien. Once the pages enkindled as if struck by the very spell written upon them, the seemingly hollow knights met with a similar fate, their armor now lit with persistent flames. Such was the power of Bibliotheca Caput Septem: Explico. By merely writing a target's name within his Bibliotheca, Glacies could immediately affect them with a spell of his choosing. It was his intention to draw out the man behind the armor, for even the most resilient entity would surely find themselves debilitated considerably with such intense heat.
But strangely, the four knights stood unhindered. With the flames of Haien dancing vivid upon their armor, they raised their flaming lances in tandem before swinging them downward, bringing about a torrent of flame moving to consume the space Glacies occupied.
The canine eluded the knights' assault with little time to spare, landing on their side of the bridge with a slightly singed shoulder. The knights, now hovering high above him, looked downward upon themselves as if marvelling at the spectacle of their illuminated armor. At this, Glacies let out a low-toned growl.
Eriphyla chuckled. In the end, Glacies had seemingly done little but empower the knights even further; but through that brief skirmish, she had gained valuable information of the enemy they now faced. "Elements would appear to be of little effect against this man," she declared to the others. "Perhaps we'd best assist Lord Glacies ere he swallows his pride and requests it of us himself; 'tis more amusing that way."
Chitose just looked around to the other people and shrugged. "Magical flying knights, what's the worst that could happen eh?" He joked to no one in particular.
"Cast a shadow, Seika no Hikage." Chitose announced as he released his Shikai. It was his best shot at dealing with these knights, especially since Soul Society wasn't watching him. After all, he was on vacation right? His sword lengthened slightly even as it blacked, and Chitose's own body looked as if a shadow had fallen over it.
"Last one to take one of these guys down has to buy everyone else dinner you guys say? Sounds fine to me." He jested before dashing towards the men of steel using Shunpo. However after three quarters of the distance between them disappeared, Chitose shot straight up a high speed. He would see if any of them followed him before continuing as he wound up above the knights.
And indeed, two of the knights were prompt to take notice of Chitose, forgetting Glacies, so it seemed, and darting upwards to where the Shinigami stood with their lances posed against him, one knight a fair distance behind the other.
Before Chitose could be tempted to engage the first knight, Eriphyla, having discreetly followed Chitose directed a palm in his direction. With the knight positioned a metre away, it was violently repelled with an expulsion of raw force, its armor shattering on its left side. The knight plummeted into the water with not so much as a cry.
"Got one," Eriphyla whispered with a confident smirk before shrugging her shoulders. "Or perhaps not; it remains to be seen."
But one knight remained to be dealt with. That knight, undeterred by Eriphyla's display, continued on its way to Chitose. It swung its lance downward, calling forth an advancing arc of flame with such intensity to conceal it from view. But while Chitose might have been tempted to defend himself from the flames, the knight revealed itself by charging through them, its lance blazing crimson from their bewitching caress. Positioned just close enough for its lance to reach, the knight aimed a horizontal stroke at Chitose's abdomen, incurring a twin surge of flame in the shape of a cross.
"Shakkahō" Chitose uttered as a dusty orange orb grew behind him, Chitose having modified the spell slightly.
His feet slid about in the air, mimicking the movements of the Quincy below. He wasn't running however. By the time his temporary movement finished, his body was pointed straight at the knight.
He stepped on the air, releasing a large amount of reiatsu from the bottom of his feet as he did so. Chitose rocketed towards the night, dodging his lance and flames by the merest of margins.
He tapped his sword against the lance as he went by it, and on every piece of armor as he passed them.
Moments after Chitose cleared the knight, the flames reached his orb. The spell detonated, growing into a sphere of intense light. The Knight's form blocked the light from reaching Chitose as the Knight's silhouette fell across him.
Chitose Drew his sword across his own body several times, yet not a cut could be found. At least on him.
Seika no Hikage might seem useless to many, as it is a blade incapable of cutting flesh and bone. But there was one thing it could cut. Shadows.
As Chitose Drew his own blade across his own body, he wasn't cut, but his opponent was. The knight came apart in clean sections as the blade severed its form. Its lance and armor we're rent and ultimately rendered useless.
But as Chitose finished his surgery, he was left with no time to dodge. As he finished his last cut, he brought his sword up and behind his head as the flames reached to engulf him.
"Bakudō Number 39, Enkōsen" he shouted, the barrier barely forming in time to stop the flames. It cracked and almost shattered, but lasted long enough for Chitose to break through the fire and flames.
He caught himself from falling much further after making another flip. He looked at the pieces of armor falling around him and the woman right by him.
"If that one gets back up we have issues," he said to Eriphyla, slightly winded. "I can only do that a few times. Also thanks for the assist. Two would have been annoying."
Eriphyla gave Chitose a round of applause, having marvelled at the spectacle like a child. "Well met, boy! T'would I had best expect our slightly-crispy puppy friend down there to win the honour of satiating our appetites. oh, have I always wished to see a dog cook!"
"Yes, maybe he can make us all go bone appetit." Chitose said with a chuckle. He then walked over to the armored woman and held out his hand. "I don't think we've been introduced. I'm Chitose, and Eriphyla was it?"
Eriphyla courteously took Chitose's hand and shook it. “Aye, I am known as Eriphyla, proud Founder of Diluculum Aeternus, lauded matron of sorcery, devout advocate of all that is well and free, and—...” She let out a yawn and looked wayward, to the ensuing battle against the remaining knights. “Truly finding this all rather tiresome. Fie, I feel as if I had stood here for years!”
"I know right? Its almost like they aren't trying." Chitose responded in amusement. "It's not like any of us are getting any younger here." Chitose said, not realizing he was in fact one of the youngest ones here at a mere 250 years old. He stood there, watching as the pair of Quincy took action. The male seemed decent, if uninspired in how he dealt with his opponent. It was a solid and explosive set of tactics he used.
The other quincy though just seemed like she wanted to show off any way possible. Any way. "You'd think she'd wear pants if she was going to stand like that" Chitose said to Eri as he watched Basi's inverted performance. "I'm personally okay with her not, but I don't know how much of an exhibitionist most Quincy are. First time I've run into one. Got one hell of an bow arm though." He finished as he watched the remaining knights come apart under her barrage.
As the flaming, sectioned pieces of armor fell from the sky, like scraps of burned paper from a fireworks show, Dresden trained his attention on one of the other knights standing in the air above him. He would have preferred to have focused his attacks on Augustus, as it was always more practical to aim at the head as opposed to hacking at the limbs, but the current circumstances rendered that line of action impossible.
He quickly glanced at his so-called companions. Eriphyla. Checha. Basillia. The two relative newcomers (who were a dog and a Shinigami). They were a rag-tag bunch... and more than one too many mouths to feed. He needed to take action as quickly as possible.
With a flash of blue light, Dresden took to the skies using Hirenkyaku. Instead of stopping above or in front of his target, however, he threw out two capsules of Gintō as he rushed past one of the knights in mid-flight.
"Gritz!" As he shouted the spell's name, a silver case snapped shut over one of the warriors. Dresden slid to a stop, appearing on the opposite riverbank... or at least what was left from it. The distance might have seemed too far to successfully stage an attack, but the trappings of his soul-synthesized silver spiritual weapon had disappeared. In its place was a simple blue bow of glowing reishi. The sole weapon of a Quincy's soul.
Dresden drew the string back past his ear. Barely visible, a metallic thread of Silber Draht stretched between the tip of the Heilig Pfiel and the center of the Gritz, allowing him to train his weapon on the trapped knight regardless of the distance or trajectory.
In reality, Gritz was a two-step Gintō. The first part entailed the capturing of the target. The second involved implosion. He was now reaching the completion of the second stage.
Dresden concentrated on drawing in the reishi at his fingertips. As he did so, the Heilig Pfiel grew in size, the spirit energy becoming denser and more concentrated. In reality, it was an imperfect imitation of Basillia's sniping ability, only Dresden was using the silver line of Gintō as a tracer.
He could not miss.
Allowing his fingers to finally slide back from the immaterial string, he released the arrow and it blitzed towards the center of the pentagonal-shaped prison. Upon contacting the center of the Gritz, the Heilig Pfiel disappeared entirely. There was a flash of light, but it appeared at first as if nothing would happen. Then, the pattern that crossed the surface of the silver case glowed with a potent energy.
The Gritz detonated.
Chitose's adept shadow trickery had been flashy, but it seemed as though Dresden was trying to upstage him. The air itself felt as though it had cracked in two, a bright flash of light nearly blinded Dresden himself, and afterwards he could feel his ears ringing from the explosion. It was brief, brilliant, and as his vision cleared he saw the particles of what had formerly been a suit of armor floating down in glittering pieces of dust to the river below. All that was left were ashes.
For possibly the first time that night, Dresden smiled a bit to himself, satisfied at a job well down. But soon his dour expression returned. There were still two left.
It had been an experience both amusing and interesting to watch the gathered fighters at play. As a marksman, things rarely went past the clandestine, after all, to fight someone in such a way as to get to see their powers, that was just bad form. And Basillia was anything but bad at her job. She took in the sights, from the simple application of Hohō to the Shinigami's footwork, to Dresden jury-rigging a shot not unlike her own. They were all sights as of-yet unfamiliar and invariably intriguing to the hellenic girl. She would have remained content to sit back, feeding on that sublime saturation of Reishi that Eriphyla had created, perhaps in doing so she would have even seen Ichchha's abilities at play, but a bet had been made. The whole world knew you didn't bet against the House. That was a fools errand.
Basillia's intent wore itself plainly on her wrist. Where once only a single, slowly generated arrow rested, were now three fully primed and capable arrows. Her capacity grew beyond even that, artificial branches solidified on her mount, and forming atop them were yet more arrows. Once they had fully accrued, a staggering eight in total, the girl made full use of her other greatest asset. Not even a moment went by as she vanished from the ground and re-appeared several hundred feet in the sky. Her skin slightly sizzling from the exertion of her trademark momentum. A disk below-- no, above -- as she stood perched upside down, her feet clinging to freshly constructed platform of reishi. All of this and more had been freshly supplied by Eriphyla. As a red light refreshed itself over of her limbal rings, she contemplated how best to repay her. Perhaps an order of sides? That seemed fair.
From her perch, shooting was easy. Her spiritual weapon far exceeded any need to worry about wind resistance, and the chaos below was so far out of reach that it might as well have not been happening. Her vision, magnified well beyond mortal ken, allowed her to see through any of the obfuscation on the bridge, and around it. As the metallic frame of her first arrow began to crack under the stress of ever-compressing energy, she loosed it with a shot that seemed more akin to unleashing an arbalest than an arrow. It rippled through the sky, a powerful boom shuddering from the heavens. The bright light exuding from it could have almost been mistaken for lightning had it not disappeared into thin air as soon as it had been unleashed. Silence followed, then an explosion.
The other Quincy though just seemed like she wanted to show off any way possible. Any way. "You'd think she'd wear pants if she was going to stand like that" Chitose said to Eri as he watched Basi's inverted performance. "I'm personally okay with her not, but I don't know how much of an exhibitionist most Quincy are. First time I've run into one. Got one hell of an bow arm though." He finished as he watched the remaining knights come apart under her barrage.
In the midst of Basillia's preparations, Eriphyla had passed the time by conversing with Chitose with seemingly little regard for the status of her comrades. But as the waters beneath her coalesced into potent bursts, influenced by the anarchy of spiritual devastation called fourth from above, the sorceress suddenly found herself drenched from head to toe.
Eriphyla took a moment to stare down her body in shock before letting out a sigh. “Oh, dear, this simply isn't my day.” But her words would go unheard in the deafening onslaught.
"Hey, it looks good on you," Chitose contributed as he too got soaked. "Least those shots didn't hit us, unlike the people standing below... Yeah that's probably not a good thing." he finished with a wince.
The water surrounding the London bridge convulsed, then seemed to open up into a perpetually deepening maw. Eriphyla's victim, whether she had killed it or not, found itself victim to a second blow with enough force that it would have surely been eradicated. When reality finally caught up to the shot, the hole filled and the water exploded upward, drenching the bridge in a torrential downpour of rain. Amidst those storming droplets, the other arrows arrived like thundering hammers. The knights weren't so much struck, as they were pummeled. Drilled with such fury that their metal frames became embedded within the cobblestone before sinking into rubble several feet deep into the bridge's interior. The primary knight, Augustus revived, found itself suffering a particularly egregious onslaught. Not one, not two, but four of the arrows had found themselves bearing down upon him. If he was to survive, it would have been as mist.
"Now that is how you win free food", she remarked to herself, content with her masterwork. She shook her arm briefly, muscles shaking from the recoil of her attacks. She took a brief moment to enjoy the view from the skyline, ignoring the fact that her dress draped low, and her silken delicates were in full view for anyone who dared look above. But she didn't leave that dare on the table for very long, returning from whence she came with a slower, but no less refined use of Hirenkyaku. The disk of light, fading off into nothing behind her.
She landed boastfully, stood triumphant amongst the debris and metallurgical corpses. "Ladies, gentlemen... dog", she began. "The Lady of the House expects a feast". She grinned, rather snide, but her body language played it off as cute, she even peppered her little command with some jovial claps, right before another arrow detonated behind her, having appeared all of a sudden from the side. Carving away yet another junk of the bridge where Augustus had once occupied. He better be very, very dead right now."
By the time silence reigned, and the water settled in its natural form, Eriphyla quietly scoured the remnants of the bridge in search of Glacies, more out of curiosity than concern. And there he was, bundled atop its churned ridges, having instinctive lay there until the destruction claimed all but his own life. As Eriphyla greeted him from the air with an amused look, Glacies looked up at her, letting out a feeble growl before closing his eyes and lying still.
Eriphyla's eyes shifted all around the lake before she solemnly placed a hand on her chest. “A moment of silence for Checha, a true heroine to all Nefas of old. You will be missed, my dear fr—”
But a sudden blow upside her head brought her to silence. She turned around to stand face-to-face with her disgruntled partner, bloodied and limping, but alive at least. “Checha!”
“At least say a prayer in my real name next time,” Ichchha sighed before turning away, folding her arms. “This was unnecessary. Now we're left with nothing.”
“But we're victorious, Checha! How is that naught?”
“Because we've been left without answers, Eriphyla! No one to question now that that man is dead. You knew better than this.”
“Ah, Checha, do not bitter me with your bitterness; 'tis so unbecoming of you!”
“So be it, then; we can talk later. Cleaning up this mess comes foremost.” Ichchha looked at Dresden, her frustration evident only in her pointed glare. “Was there anything else of import regarding this encounter—anything I had best be told right now?”
"Is this the point where I say I still have no idea what's going on here," Chitose interjected after the question. "Also do you two need healing? Cause yeah... That just looks painful..." He said as he looked over their wounds. "I can do some Kaido, though I'm not the best at it." He clearly didn't know what to say here, considering the friendly fire. So he had just started talking.
Ichchha looked at Chitose, then to Eriphyla, who beckoned her with a nod. “Take Glacies to him,” she requested of her partner.
“Fie, Checha, what of your own wounds!?”
“They are none of your concern. Now, please, do as I say.”
As Eriphyla reluctantly carried Glacies by the tail to Chitose, Ichchha took a deep breath, mitigating her pain to the best of her willpower, before awaiting Dresden's response with a more placid expression.
For his part, Dresden was a bit peeved, even though he would never let that fact show on the surface. He was still holding his injured shoulder, and had just spent a great deal of effort removing himself from the presence of the hellfire from above that Basillia had so carelessly cast over the river... including the nearby river's edge. While he had managed to skirt out of the way of the onslaught of her Heilig Pfiel, he too had failed to avoid the tidal wave that followed in the wake of the attack. His expensive warrant officer's dress uniform, which while more or less fake had been mandatory for his role at the debutante's ball that evening, was now completely soaked. He cringed when he saw the flattened state of the epaulettes from the corner of his eye, but then reassured himself that it wasn't really his problem. The countess of Yunevich's bank account could take care of that, he told himself.
Still, the fact that Checha had shown concern for a dog, of all things, while so pointedly ignored his own injuries, made her stance towards him seem all the more hostile. He narrowed his eyes as she addressed him, ignoring the others.
But instead of directly answering her question, he accused: "You're questioning me?" Dresden frowned, but only slightly. "My only implication in this matter was one of good-will: I saw a threat and I reacted accordingly. The one who might provide you with more useful information is the lady from Greece there," he said, nodding towards Basillia in hopes that he could turn Ichchha's attention away from him.
The dark-toned woman returned the nod with a look of feigned incredulity, before shrugging away with a more honest answer. "Well, sure, I can tell you plenty about old August, even what kind of lingerie he was into", she smirked knowingly, but for all her playing, fatigue was beginning to set in, something that was quickly becoming clear from how plodding she acted. As powerful as she was and as energised as she might have been, Basillia was still human. A human that had been bleeding from her arm for some time now. Coupled with rashly taken high-speed acrobatics, and a trip into the oxygen limited sky, and it was plain to see why she'd start feeling a little... slow.
"First things first, though, you lot owe me dinner!", she clapped emphatically as if to call attention to herself, and just as she did the strength of her legs happened to give out, unceremoniously dropping her to the hard stone floor beneath. "Er... and maybe a few bandages", she grumbled.
“Well, I...” Ichchha stood at a lost for words, left flustered before her own ignorance and more exhausted than she cared to show. She let out an exasperated sigh, managing a wry smile before Basillia's levity despite her injuries. “Nevertheless, we were victorious—our enemy is defeated, and we all yet live; nothing matters more than that. Come with us to our sanctuary and we will mend your wounds and provide you outsiders with whatever accommodations you require. Besides...” she looked at Chitose and the unconscious Glacies. “The presence of you two is still a mystery to me. It seems we will have much to discuss.”
“I suppose you would like me to repair the bridge now?” Eriphyla meekly asked, pointing to the barren river.
“Yes, please.” Descending to the streets to gain a safe distance, Ichchha watched as her partner began to gradually piece the bridge back together, the needed materials manifesting into existence, rhythmically twirling in a wide radius around the sorceress so as to conceal most of her form from view, before descending into their proper place within the puzzle. “That only we had an answer... All we can do now is wait, and be ready.”
“Perhaps I can help shed some light upon this mystery!”
Ichchha looked over her shoulder to the source of the familiar voice. A white cat had carelessly approached her with a stranger in tow. Ichchha gazed into the creature's eyes, knowing full well her thoughts could be read by the hint of bewilderment in her expression. “Freyja? What is the meaning of this?”
But the cat, Freyja, would not promptly answer her, instead turning her attention to the battlefield. “Oh dear, oh dear, have we come belatedly to the festivities?” she asked, using telepathy to speak to all participants at once in lieu of her feline tongue. “I see you, too, have sought the aid of a Shinigami. And Lord Glacies has come as well? Curious… Well, as Eriphyla is rather preoccupied at present, I suppose we had best wait a spell before taking our leave. You were to leave for the sanctuary, were you not?”
Ichchha nodded. “These outsiders will be our guests. We have them to thank for this victory.”
“I see. It is for the best; they, too, deserve an answer, and some recompense for their deeds. Ah, speaking of recompense...” Freyja pointed her tail to the stranger before Ichchha whilst she herself remained pointed to Eriphyla's spectacle. “I am happy to introduce Takumi Kimura, a, erm… sellsword, I deemed fitting to accompany me for a certain inquiry in Nimes. And let me just say that we, too, have seen many a battle of late.”
"Neat, a talking cat to go with the talking dog." Chitose said as he healed the mutt in question. His palms were currently imbued with a green light, slowly but surely knitting the terrier back together. "That being said, there's far more damage here than I can heal in one sitting. So I can just make sure that he'll survive."
He paused for a moment as he continued before beckoning the injured exhibitionist to walk over. "As to why we're here, the doggo here said you needed to speak to me about something. So I was hoping you'd know."
Takumi seemed strangely unperturbed by the strange selection of talking animals present. He seemed to be talking in hushed tones to someone that none of those present could see, perhaps he was simply raving mad. Eventually he turned his attention on to the rest of those assmembled and took a single step forward, hands on his Zanpakuto.
When he spoke, his voice was gruff, the voice of a warrior. "Right. I'm here to ensure that none of you die, and to deal with foes that you may not, I'll leave the boring brainpower-related stuff to the rest of you, just tell me what and who to burn."
Ichchha heeded Takumi's words with a concerned gaze. "Then... am I right in thinking this battle is not yet finished?"
"Oh, Ichchha, you have no idea," Freyja sighed before instantly appearing in front of Chitose and Glacies, prodding the latter with her tail while gazing upon the former. "So, Lord Glacies says we have aught to discuss. Curious; I do not believe we have met before. Ah, well, we shall have time aplenty to chat... in due time!"
Then, Freyja appeared before Basillia, prancing upon her fallen body. "Oh, we have another Quincy!" she exclaimed with excitement before fixating upon Dresden. "Two, I should say. I see, so Founders Ichchha and Eriphyla were not the first to come. Might I ask what—"
"We can question them later," Ichhcha interrupted. "Their wellbeing should be our foremost concern."
With the bridge restored as it was before the battle, Eriphyla approached Freyja. "Oh, how I missed my motherly feline! Are you hurt yet?"
Freyja and Eriphyla shared a mutual laugh at their inside joke before Freyja leapt to clap Eriphyla's palm.
"Now, if we all done fraternizing, let us all return to the safety of our sanctuary. You outsiders are to come with us—no ifs, ands, or buts!"
Ichchha lifted her hand in an attempt to draw Freyja's attention. "Wait, we should first—"
But with a flick of Freyja's tail, they were all spirited away, leaving the bridge to its well-deserved peace and silence.