Two Hours After the Castle Realignment
The wind whistled through the ears of the group of four as they streaked across the treetops, skimming the surface of an ocean of green. The night was beginning to fall, a blood-red moon already ascending into the sky behind them, illuminating countless shadows that danced in their wake. But they could not turn back, lest the darkness that pursued them on that bloody night claim their lives for its own.
“How much further?” Called Shirou to the familiar at their head, atop which the priest balanced precariously against the raging wind.
Konrad’s visage was grim as his eyes darted back and forth across the foliage below, scanning relentlessly for signs of the shadowy shapes he knew were approaching. “Only a few miles more until the foothills. The lake should be in a valley at the base of the mountain.” His voice lacked its usual humor, and his words were blunt and professional. The others with him, though they had known him for years, still did not often get the chance to see him in this state. He turned his cold eyes to the mage carrying them in their flight for a moment, glancing up, and then returning to his vigil over the forest below. “How fast can you get us there?”
“Approximately twenty minutes until we clear the forest. If the lake is there, then we should reach it by then,” The magus responded calmly after consulting her familiar for a moment.
“Do we even have that much time? Those things
may catch us before we get that far,” Shirou questioned pointedly.
“Too late.” Konrad turned and looked to the rear of their formation, staring intensely into a gap between the trees. “The vanguard just found us.” A group of dark forms flitted in and out of the clearing in a blur, the darkness cloaking their forms and movements from almost every eye, but the Executor’s experienced vision had detected them almost as soon as they arrived.“Vampires.” The priest spoke only one word, his face still pale, as he scanned the horizon, as if expecting an enemy army to come charging into view across the ruins of the castle at any moment.
”What do you mean, ‘Vampires?’ Don’t just go giving us cryptic one-word warnings like that explains everything.” Seire interjected, looking gravely at the priest who seemed, for the first time since the thief had met him, genuinely frightened.
“I mean ‘Vampires’!” The priest snapped, his patience gone in an instant. “I’m sure you heard of them when you and your merry band were wreaking havoc all across the continent!” He turned coldly to the waiting group. “You are in danger here. Leave. This isn’t something kleptomania and improvised swordsmanship can handle.”
“I think what my brother was trying to ask was, ‘Why are these Vampires here, and posing a threat to us?’” Shirou said pointedly.
“Yeah. I ain’t heard of any Vampires on any of the floors we’ve been to - even the ones nobody else has reached,” added Zess.
“That’s because the lower floors don’t
have any Vampires.” Kurt ran a hand through his hair and let out a breath of frustration. “They are powerful. Far more so than anything the lower castle could handle. That’s why you all need to get out of here before they arrive. They aren’t coming here after
you, and I don’t need more people to keep out of the crossfire.”
“Okay, there are a thousand things I’d like to call you out on in what you just said, but let’s start with the obvious question. If they’re not after us, then what the hell makes you so special that they’d come all the way here just to say hi?” Seire interrupted pointedly.
“This!” Kurt growled out as he ripped off his coat and pulled down the collar of his shirt, revealing the red fabric tightly wound around his collarbone like a bandage.
“When did this happen?” Asked Scarlet gravely, narrowing her eyes as a glimmer of distrust entered her visage. The magus stepped between the thieves and the priest, a tiny familiar appearing before her as she analyzed what lay beneath the remnants of the Executor’s shroud. An insidious curse, one that had already rooted itself firmly within him, simmered beneath the surface, slowly pushed back by the consecrated mantle’s healing powers, but awaiting only death’s releasing touch to spread like wildfire.
“If you insist on knowing, it happened months ago. A low level Underground vampire caught me unaware. My shroud would have removed it by now, but I had to take off the bandage during the fight and the curse managed to entrench itself. Now it’s trying to call in reinforcements, and every vampire in this castle can hear it.” He pulled his coat back on and looped the remains of his mantle around his neck as a scarf once more.
“So you’re planning on distracting an entire army on your own? How long exactly do you think that you, on foot, will last against a legion of superhuman killing machines?” Shirou questioned.
“Do I need to remind you that that used to be my job?” Kurt snapped back unconvincingly.
“Irrelevant,” Scarlet said calmly. “As it is, any distance you can gain on them will be insignificant. Should you sacrifice yourself here, it would be in vain. And were you to become one of them, with your abilities, you would pose a threat to this castle’s entire populace.”
“Right,” Seire said, nodding. “And besides that, a certain person would be really pissed if I just let an old partner go get himself killed without at least trying to help.”
Kurt started to protest, but was cut off by Shirou. “Just hold on a moment and hear my brother out. He may be crazy, but he’s never done anything suicidal without a plan to make it out okay.”
“Indeed. With Scarlet’s familiars, we should be able to avoid direct confrontations. And all we have to do is keep them away from the townspeople, right? Running away isn’t very manly, but with more mobility and more manpower, even if we do end up in a pinch, at least we should be able to get them far enough away from civilization that nobody else gets caught up in it.”
“You don’t have a clue what you’re dealing with here, do you?” Kurt growled in annoyance. “Fine, keep being crazy if that’s what you want, but understand that there isn’t anything even all of us together can do about this except run and hope we’re faster. Even the ghouls can move faster than a normal human can see, and the ancient ones wouldn’t even bat an eye while they destroyed us. We have to find somewhere to escape to.” And just like that, the argument had become a planning session. “Because of me, they’ll know where we are no matter where we run. We have to find somewhere where they either can’t, or don’t want to go, and if even the oldest ones from the top of the castle get in on the pursuit, there won’t be anywhere in the world they can’t follow.” Kurt’s breathing calmed and his face became cold as he slipped into the role of an Executor for the second time since he had entered the castle. An itinerant priest, con artist, and swordsman wouldn’t be enough to overcome the situation the thieves were in, but a trained demon hunter of the Church might just make the odds something they could manage.
“Then where the hell are we supposed to go? The way you’re talking, it sounds like a fool’s errand,” Zess asked irritably. “There’s gotta be somewhere that they won’t follow us. Maybe a church, or across running water… a garlic farm, maybe?”
“The ancients would only take it as an insult.” Konrad quickly shot down the idea without even mocking it. “Water…” He paused, and his face changed into a distant expression. “I was attacked by a vampire before, during the climax of the rioting. It was a greater vampire, perhaps even an ancient, but it overwhelmed me and threw me from a cliff, into a lake deep in the wilderness of the second floor. I thought I was dead. I should have been dead… unless it didn’t want to follow me.”
“It’s away from civilization, then?” Scarlet inquired, to which the priest nodded. “In that case, we should set out for that place immediately. It may not be much, but it seems to be our only hope of evading your pursuers.”
“A lake, huh? Maybe I won’t be as useless as I thought, then,” The pirate mused, laying his uninjured hand upon the hilt of his enchanted sword.
“No. It’s best that you don’t get involved in this,” objected the Magus. Seire nodded gravely.
“With your arm in the state it’s in, you won’t be in any shape to fight. Besides, we need somebody to go back and warn the guilds to evacuate the second floor in case we don’t make it. At the very least, we need to keep innocent bystanders from getting killed.”
“I got it,” The pirate sighed. “I guess I should thank you. I thought you’d be dragging me along for your suicide mission.”
“Well, comrades are always welcome in times of danger, but your skills are best used elsewhere,” The thief said wryly.
“Fine by me. In that case, I’ll set off immediately.” With those words, the former pirate turned and began to make his way down the mountain of rubble and towards the distant center of the now horizontal castle. Looking back over his shoulder as he went, he gave a final salute. “And Seire!” He called. “In case you guys get yourselves killed, know this: I’ll take good care of your guild for you, like I wanted to in the first place!”
“It’s in your hands,” The thief replied, before turning to Scarlet. “Alright, then. We’ve got no time. Let’s move.”
“How many?” Seire asked, looking back into the shadows as he tried to discern the numbers of the approaching enemy.
“I count at least two dozen,” Scarlet replied, her familiars blinking rapidly as they transmitted this information back to her.
“They’re only the first to arrive. More should be here soon, and the trees below are already swarming with ghouls.” The malformed, incomplete vampiric creatures might be mindless, but with their feral attacks and lightning fast speed, they could overwhelm even masterful warriors quite literally in the blink of an eye. They would be the first to arrive, followed shortly by the true Vampires. Konrad turned over the situation in his head planning contingencies where he could. In the best case scenario, the ones below would be the weaker vampires from the thirtieth floor or below, arriving first because they were the closest, but the floors had been so shuffled about he couldn’t even be sure that those floors were even close anymore. Even if they were, the far more potent ancients from above could potentially arrive first regardless, their immense powers that would spell almost certain doom for the fugitive thieves should they arrive being the same thing that allowed them to ignore more mortal concepts such as distance at will.
“Well, then, guess we should thin the pack, huh?” Seire said, drawing his sword.
Several flashes of light illuminated the darkness as the Magus commenced the battle, four familiars rising up from the shadows at the same instant as two of the Vampire attack force made their move, darting for their targets only to find themselves caught in a grid of energy turned to a makeshift net by Scarlet’s force runes, which swiftly closed around them and ripped their fragile, deceased bodies to pieces. Several more familiars opened fire, a blitz of lightning deterring a few of the more eager vampires from trying their luck, and dropping one of the less prudent ones.
Konrad’s eyes narrowed as he heard the snap of a twig and the rush of displaced air below, and silently spinning into a powerful leap, he flew from his mount, whirling through the air, daggers digging into the flesh of a leaping ghoul and sending it spiralling back down into the forest below with a scream. Spinning higher into the air, his trajectory shifted by his contact with the ghoul, Konrad flew past the diving, black form of a lesser Vampire, wire netting around its neck as he hurtled away. The empty familiar he left flew straight into the wire stretched taut between their flying forms and yanked the creature backwards, snapping its neck and hurling its body into a flying fireball from the battle above even as Kurt was launched upward to land on another mount, unbalanced for a moment as he accelerated once more.
It was in this moment of vulnerability, however, that one of the vampires that had been keeping its distance made a lunge for its target, clawed hands raised to tear his throat apart. In an instant, a flash of black and white darted into its path as, sword plunging towards his foe’s chest, Seire leaped into the way, slamming into the vampire and plummeting along with it into the woods below, his scissors flashing forth from his sleeve and plunging into the beast’s eyes as they fell into darkness.
“Seire!” Shirou cried, preparing to leap after him. Scarlet nodded, halting the motion of both the familiars upon which the two remaining thieves rode before the oncoming horde, hundreds more like them blinking into existence around the Magus as she prepared to make her stand.
“This is where we part,” She said calmly. “The rest is in your hands. We have a comrade we can’t leave behind. Now go!”
Konrad only nodded coolly, and allowed himself to fall backward from his perch, the ghouls below caught by surprise at his sudden leap. As he neared the treetops, a gleaming metal strand flew from his grip, and with a flash of blue lightning, he vanished.
The thief groaned, rising to his feet and dusting himself off as he glanced around at the clearing he’d found himself in. Trees surrounded him on all sides, their branches, broken by his fall, hanging chaotically in a mockery of the green canopy that must have once covered this place. The ground was overshadowed, largely devoid of grass - or anything, really.
Well, except for the body lying in a small pool of blood next to him. The pale, emaciated creature hadn’t managed to land nearly so well as himself, Seire mused. Both of its batlike wings had been torn to shreds by rocks on the ground, and their bones had snapped in several places. Its other limbs had fared little better, with several bones protruding out of both its arms and legs. But most notable was the fact that the front of its body appeared to have been caved in, with quite a few ribs protruding from the gash in its chest Seire had created with his sword as they fell. He reached down, recovering his bloodied scissors from its severed jugular. It seemed this vampire, at least, wouldn’t be getting up again.
A flash of light illuminated the woods a short way in the distance, drawing Seire’s attention. But just as he was about to head for the nearby battle, something stopped him. A familiar sense ran through his body, an uncanny instinct that he was walking into danger. He hesitated, and took a closer look at the surrounding area.
His search wasn’t in vain, for as he looked around him, black shapes became apparent in the trees, and several deformed, bestial humanoids came crawling like wolves on all fours from within the circle of dead trees. Their scarlet eyes gleamed in the shadows as they emerged, encircling him.
“I see,” Said the thief, dropping into a combat stance. “These must be the ghouls Kurt was talking about. My, my, there are quite a few of you, aren’t there? Well, I guess it wouldn’t be a fair fight otherwise!” Grinning, Seire lowered himself as the beasts around him did the same, preparing to pounce all at once. But he didn’t intend to give them the luxury of the first move. Leveling his blade, he abruptly leaped at the edge of the circle closest to where he had seen Scarlet’s magic a moment before. “Come at me, dogs of the devil!” He roared. The ghouls screamed wordlessly back, and lunged at the thief.
A murder of crows rose into the air, their cries drowned out by the beginning struggle.
The final ghoul screamed, leaping for the man who stood over the bodies of all of its fellows. It was naught but a blur, barely even visible to the eye. But Seire didn’t need to see it to know where it was going. In an instant, the thief, his coat stained crimson with the blood of countless fallen enemies, blurred to the side, his sword rising in a flash towards the incoming attacker.
The sound of rending flesh.
The scream of the ghoul as its extended arm fell away from its body.
Even as these sounds rang out, Seire was already making his next move. Sweeping out his leg, he kicked the clumsy creature’s back legs, atop which it had landed, from beneath it, in the next instant reversing this motion to bisect the creature at the waist. Flicking his blade around using the ring of the handguard, Seire caught the weapon with a reverse grip and plunged it downward, driving it right through the heart of the falling beast. The ghoul was dead before it hit the ground.
A blink of red light caught Seire’s attention, and he turned to see a familiar descending from above. ”Seire,”
Called out Scarlet via the construct, worry evident in her voice. ”Are you alright? Can you move? You need to get out of there! The vampires’ main force is almost here. Shirou is cutting a path for you. He’ll be there in about three and a half minutes, so please, run while yo-”
The mage’s words were cut off suddenly as a blood-red projectile pierced through the floating familiar, splitting it in two and dissolving it instantly.
“Little late on the warning there, Scarlet,” Seire muttered to himself as all around him in the sky above, a circle of figures in black and white armor whirled overhead, their batlike wings slowly folding up and collapsing into their backs as they landed around him, surrounding the bloodstained man and cutting him off completely. “Let’s see,” He said casually, pointing his blade at each member of the circle in turn. “One… two… three…” He began to count idly, turning to face each before finally stopping on one final member of their number, who, unlike the others - whose faces were covered completely save for their grinning, fanged mouths by white masks - wore no helmet, in addition to a flowing black mantle that adorned his armor. Ah, so this was their commander. “That makes nine,” Seire finished. “Nine enemies in only three minutes, huh? Easier said than done, Scarlet. If I don’t kill at least one every… oh, 20 seconds or so, then Shirou will start stealing my kills.”
“Well, aren’t you confident?” Hissed the unmasked Vampire. “What makes you think you’ll be alive when your friend gets here, Human?” Nodding to his fellows, he sneered, baring his fangs at the thief as the other vampires extended their hands and drew matching sets of weapons seemingly from thin air, leveling them at their opponent. In the hands of each rested a jet black double-bladed sword, and a small, circular shield. Seire grimaced. Considering the ease with which they were using those oversized blades one-handed, he had a feeling that they were a lot stronger than their emaciated bodies would suggest.
“Kill him,” ordered the leader. With a wordless scream, like a crow of triumph, three vampires leaped towards the thief. His amber eyes widened in surprise. Even with all the armor they wore, and the large weapons they held, they were still faster even than the ghouls he’d just finished fighting. Reacting on instinct, he darted to the side at the last second as the first vampire swept down one of the blades of its polearm, only barely missing him as he, in turn, slashed his own blade upward. The vampire raised its shield to defend, but the thief had predicted as much, and with a flick of his wrist, he redirected his slash around the edge of the small buckler, severing the vampire’s entire arm. The creature cried out as its hand flew into the air, stumbling past its mark, but was swiftly silenced as a blade pierced its body from behind and a boot planted itself on the creature’s back, launching it into one of its own oncoming allies and knocking both over. Yet, at the same time, the final vampire had managed to close in behind Seire. Raising its blade, it slashed downward, only to cry out in surprise as its weapon, too, was turned away as the thief offhandedly caught the buckler that the first vampire had lost along with its arm, batting the incoming blade aside. Undeterred, the creature turned this momentum into a second attack, pivoting and bringing up its second blade towards the thief, who leaped over its head, flipping head over heels and slashing downward as the enemy’s blade passed beneath him. With a crash, its weapons fell to the ground, along with both of the hands that had held them. Landing, he smirked at the unmasked Vampire, who was now eyeing him with an air of surprise.
“Believe me,” The thief said with a grin. “I’m much harder to kill than you’d think.”
With a crash, the vampire fell to the ground with a dying howl, its back carved open by the bloodstained blade of the thief. As its last remaining comrade charged from behind, its face was met by Seire’s stolen buckler, smashing its nose in before the thief hastily followed up by dealing a slash directly across the creature’s chest, sending it toppling over along with its fellows.
“That’s eight!” The thief cried victoriously, leaping over his fallen enemy and hurling himself at the unmasked vampire, who, as of yet, had not moved from his position, or drawn any sort of weapon. He merely smirked, watching as the thief came on, his blade raised to attack. Sweeping his mantle before him, his red eyes flashed as he spoke a simple command.
“Shield me,” He said calmly. The thief’s sword came sweeping down, only to meet the cloak of the vampire and, to his surprise, be turned back completely, sending Seire staggering backward several feet.
“What the hell?” He muttered. “Magic? Damnit, I knew I should have read more of that grimoire I stole from the tower!”
“Knowledge of mere Human magic won’t help you in a battle against a superior being, fool,” Laughed the vampire, flicking his cape back over his shoulder. As he did so, Seire caught a glimpse of the inside of the garment, and his amber eyes narrowed in understanding, for on the inside of the cloak was plainly emblazoned a large crest, evidently drawn in blood. Although he didn’t recognize the mark itself, its purpose was obvious.
“I get it,” He said, shouldering his sword with a grin. “You’ve got some kind of magic that allows you to mess with the properties of objects, but requires a blood seal and a vocal command to do it.” The vampire’s eyes widened in surprise, and the thief’s smirk broadened. “You seem surprised. Didn’t think I could put two and two together?”
“You’re… not as stupid as you look,” Conceded the vampire.
“Well, I fight mages on an annoyingly regular basis, so I’ve been doing my homework.” The thief leveled his sword. “Now then, if I had to guess, I’d say that since your magic requires a seal, it’s a one use spell, isn’t it? Then in that case, that trick won’t save you twice!” Roaring this, Seire lunged once again, slashing his sword upward towards the vampire’s side, only for his adversary to once more sweep out his cape, turning aside the strike and sending Seire stumbling past. Undeterred, the thief pivoted and attacked again, and when this was deflected in the same fashion, aimed one final blow at his adversary, skidding back as his blade met the vampire’s cloak.
“No command…?” He muttered, his smirk turning to a grimace of irritation. “Great. So even if it’s one use only, the spell has an energy reserve and won’t break until it’s depleted, will it?”
“How astute of you. That’s correct,” The vampire laughed. “And as my blood contains many thousands of human souls, I believe you’ll find it impossible to-”
“Then I’ll just get around it!” Seire roared, abruptly closing the distance between them in a fraction of a second and lunging forward. There was a grating of metal against metal as the thief’s blade pierced a joint in the vampire’s armor, driving itself through his enemy’s body. “Heh. As I thought,” He jeered. “You were so confident in your abilities that when you got the chance to boast, you lost focus on defending yourself!” Swiping his blade out of the vampire’s body, he sidestepped the falling corpse and smirked. “And I do believe that’s nine,” He said, about to sheath his sword.
“Try zero,” Replied the enemy he’d thought dead, rising to his feet once again as the wound in his chest closed abruptly. The vampire leader rounded with a sneer upon the thief, who was just opening his mouth to cry out in surprise when a loud whistling was heard behind him. Acting instinctively, he spun around, raising his stolen shield as a black projectile came streaking towards him. His golden eyes widened in surprise as the double-edged sword collided with his buckler, thrown like a javelin by one of the vampires he was sure he had slain. But he had no time to focus on the eight white figures that were rising from the ground where they had fallen all around him, their slavering jaws dripping with blood and saliva, for in the next instant, the weapon that had collided with his buckler froze, and began to undergo a change. Its back blade collapsed upon itself, narrowing into the haft of a spear, while the tip spiraled outward, whirling like a drill as it expanded into a two pronged spearhead… and then passed through his shield without any resistance from the stolen ward as it, in turn, vanished in a spiral of orange light. His eyes widened in surprise, and he gave a cry of agony as the gigantic javelin pierced his flesh, its twin heads driving themselves clean through his shoulders. The impact was tremendous, enough to carry him off his feet and send him flying backward as though fired from a cannon. Colliding with a tree, he found himself pinned by the spear that had impaled his body, its heads piercing not only himself, but even managing to embed themselves into the tree.
“How…?” He gasped, struggling for air as agony wracked his chest. It seemed several of his ribs had been broken by the impact. His sword landed, skittering to a stop in the dirt next to him. Weakly, dazed both by the collision with the tree and his many wounds, he tried to reach for the weapon, yet with his shoulders pinned, he could hardly move his arms.
The vampire leader laughed as he stood over his fallen enemy. “Did you really think that we, perfect, immortal vampires, could be slain by a mere Human with a sword? And did you really think that the weapons we created with our own power, the forms of which we control as we see fit, could be used to protect you from us? HAH! Guess you’re not as smart as you thought, huh, Human?” Giving another mocking crow of laughter, he turned to walk away. “Still, you were fun while you were alive. As a reward for entertaining me, I think I’ll let you bleed out there. A warrior should die with his sword in his hand, after all. But oh, wait! You dropped this, didn’t you?” Giving another mocking, mirthless laugh, the vampire snatched the thief’s fallen sword as he tried in vain to grasp it. “Well, I guess it’s mine, then! It’s quite a nice blade, for a Human like you. Good craftsmanship, and it’s even enchanted to keep its edge. That’s one thing I love about Humans - well, other than how good they taste, that is. They always make such fine toys.” Looking down, the vampire noticed the thief raising his arm upward, and gave a maniacal laugh, bending down over him with a twisted sneer. “What’s that? You want it back? Hah! Too bad. You’re going to die soon anyway, so the likes of this is wasted on-”
Seire’s fingers abruptly extended, and the small, yet razor sharp black wyvern scale held between them was loosed, burying itself in the vampire’s eye. He screamed with pain and drew back, dropping Seire’s sword and clutching his new wound as blood streamed down his face. “You disgusting little INSECT!” He howled with rage.
“I… don’t… run away…” Seire gasped out between bloody coughs, reaching out and laying hold of his fallen sword with his weak arm. He raised it upward, feebly trying to lunge at his tormentor. “And I don’t… surrender…! I’ll kill you… I’ll kill you…!” Chanting this oath like a mantra, as though it was the only thing keeping him from succumbing to death then and there, he aimed one final stab at the vampire.
The vampire stepped to the left as his eye regrew in its socket, reached down, laid hold of Seire’s extended left arm, and then dug his clawed hands into it just above the elbow. The thief cried out in pain as his limb was torn from his body, and the vampire gave another cruel laugh as Seire’s hand, still clutching his sword, fell lifelessly to the ground.
“Well, I was going to let you die peacefully, but no! You couldn’t have that. You Humans always try to die like heroes, don’t you? Well then have it your way!” Turning to his now fully regenerated henchmen, the Vampire beckoned for his less intelligent subordinates. “Devour him,” He commanded.
The white-clad creatures gave wordless shrieks of delight, spreading their wings and rising into the air as they circled their prey like so many vultures. Then all at once, they dived down upon him, their mouths open wide as they prepared for a feast.
“Have a nice death,” Said the vampire, and he turned to walk away… and then was promptly reduced to a shower of splattered innards, red mist, and disconnected upper and lower body parts as a familiar black greatsword tore through him like so much wet paper.“LIKE HELL!”
Roared Shirou, sweeping up his blade once again and reducing three of the descending predators to similar showers of gore. The Vampires ascended once more, unsure what they should make of this new arrival. Taking advantage of this opening, Shirou turned, picking up the sword his comrade had dropped.
“Well, well, well,” Said the vampire leader as his body slowly reformed itself, rising to his feet in a flash of crimson light. “What do we have here? Another would-be hero? Wonderful. Well, I do have to give you some credit. It looks like you actually managed to at least kill some of my followers.” He motioned to the various messily disassembled bodies around the knight, which, although they struggled to reform themselves, only managed to regenerate partially before going still. It seemed the damage had been too great for their powers to undo.
“Sorry, brother,” Apologized the knight, gritting his teeth as he leveled his own blade as well as Seire’s. “But I can’t remove that spear from your body and carry you out of here while under attack from monsters like these.”
“That’s… fine…” Chuckled the thief, blood slowly beginning to pool in the dirt beneath him. “Just… go.”
“The hell I will! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the oath we swore,” Said the knight angrily. “I promised to follow you until the end, and if this is it, then I still have one last battle to fight before my promise is fulfilled. I might not be able to save you, brother… But at the very least, I’ll avenge you, even if it means dying by your side!”
“Idiot,” Gasped Seire. “Hey… I’m feeling kind of tired… Is it alright if I… rest for a bit?” He shut his eyes. “I really can’t… stay awake much longer… so I’ll leave it… to you.”
“Then I’ll finish what you started,” Shirou replied coldly as the vampires began to close in. “You monsters… The only way you reach my brother is over my corpse! Now, then, come at me! I’ll make you taste the sword of the King of Thieves at least once more before I fall!”
No sooner did the priest's foot land on the tree's branch than the whole tree reverberated with a deafening crash and swung sideways, its trunk shattered by a swing of a huge arm. By the time the tree hit the ground, Konrad was already swinging off through the forest as fast as his cables could carry him.
“Get back here you pathetic human! I need to eat you before the others get here and steal my prize!” The giant arm retracted into a normal sized, pale-skinned body, changing into a normal shape as it did so, and the vampire leaped off in Kurt's wake. “I'm not letting you escape!”
“You don't get a choice.” Came the ruthless response as Konrad swung in from the side and planted his boot into the creature's enraged face. Spinning to earth, the thing slammed into the dirt with an enormous bang, leaving a crater completely at odds with its apparent size. As the priest tried to swing off, however, two huge appendages shot through the smoke cloud. He barely managed to dodge them, but one slammed into his cable, sending him careening off through the forest.
The Executor grunted involuntarily as he slammed chest first into a large branch that shattered with his momentum, taking a rib along with it. The cold control of years of training took over and crushed down the instinct to grimace, and he shut out the pain and threw another cable, barely managing to catch onto a passing tree trunk. A straight flight suddenly turned into a wide arc, and his speed carried him around in a semi-circle, just barely avoiding the next set of trees as he gritted his teeth from the pressure of his harness on his bruises.
Back in the clearing it had made, the now giant vampire, having transformed its whole body this time, was unprepared for what it thought was its incapacitated prey to come hurtling out of the tree line, knives flashing in both hands. The giant vampire's head jerked back as Kurt collided with it, and blood flew through the air as his knives stabbed deep into the monster’s eyes. Roaring in pain, the vampire's head jerked away, sending the demon hunter flipping off, staring down like an emotionless spectre of death as he spoke the activation phrase for his sacrament. “Cremation.”
Konrad landed on the tilted trunk of yet another violently uprooted tree as the creature's head exploded in flames, two knives coming flying out of the chaos, flickering with blue light as they became sheets of paper, expertly caught by the priest with his black book. Not waiting for the creature to regenerate, long experience having taught him well the tricks they were capable of, he went flying out again, his cable yanking him up and around the vampire's massive arm. Flailing about blindly to kill its attacker, the vampire found cables looping around its midsection and other shoulder, even as Konrad swung out and up, pulsing a perfectly measured amount of power through his wires to constrict them with just enough force to cause the maximum amount of physical pain and collateral damage.
Blood and another scream filled the air as both the vampire's arms at its lower torso were torn off and turned to dust. Its upper body crashing to the ground, already wreathed in power that was slowly remaking its missing parts, the vampire screamed curses and threats towards the priest.
Konrad’s silent glare met one of the vampire's half-rebuilt eyes, sending fear down the creature's shattered spine. His eyes were as cold and unforgiving as steel. “This is where you die, creature of darkness.” And with that, he fell from the sky, coat and scarf flapping around him, and landed atop the hastily constructed, rune-covered wooden stake he had just withdrawn from his coat, driving it home into the vampire's heart with a blinding flash of golden power.
Control breaking momentarily, Kurt panted for breath as he balanced atop the stake that was now embedded in the ground, the remains of the vampire dissolving around him; a black cloud that filled the air and obscured the moon. Can't keep this up much longer. Too many of them have been catching up, and I'm taking too many wounds with every kill. Where is that damn lake?
Massaging his aching head, the pounding of which had been increasing since the landing, Kurt tried to focus and regain his Executor’s calm.
He only had a moment to catch the last rustle of the forest floor behind him and start to flip forward to avoid the oncoming attack from behind, but he was too slow, and a vice like grip, like a thousand chillingly cold, animate ropes clamped around his chest. A moment later, his back was slamming against the ground, and for a second he blacked out as blood flew from his mouth.
Forcing himself to cling to consciousness, he recovered to find himself lying on his back, the intense pain running through his body speaking of multiple broken bones, and judging by how his vision was blurring in and out, he probably had a concussion. Damn it... how was I so... sloppy?
Laying a moment before what would probably be his demise, he felt nothing but irritation with himself for failing so easily. With much effort, he turned his head downward, to see the swirling black substance covering him and pinning him to earth, spreading out into the grass in all directions. Of course, a shadow mage... He used the darkness from the disintegrating vampire to fuel his attack.
But this shadow mage was nothing like the level of the peons he had fought months ago in the underground. The force his presence left in the air, even though he hadn't revealed himself, was almost as overwhelming as the shadows crushing him into the dirt.
Dizziness filled Kurt's head as the shadows slowly raised him up, constricting further so he couldn't even make an attempt at escape if he had been in any shape to do so. In the darkness ahead of him, something moved. A form that seemed to be wrapped in a cloak of liquid darkness stepped forward, baring its gleaming fangs. Then it struck.
The vampire's teeth clamped down on the incapacitated priest's shoulder, slicing through the black fabric of his coat, only to strike a weave of deep crimson wrapped tightly underneath it. The explosion was like a flash bomb of holy magic, and the blinding light rendered the shadows into so much dust that blew away on the wind. The vampire's head was burned away in an instant by the holy light and the remnants of his body went hurtling through a tree.
Kurt, feeling a bit more clear headed after the pulse of holy power, managed to regain enough focus to drag his body up to a tree trunk. Slumping at its base, he gasped for breath as his vision began to blur again. Somewhere within him, he knew he had to move before more showed up, but he could barely raise even a single arm to try and drag himself from the dirt.
Then a slow clapping sound echoed through the trees, and Kurt's eyes, focusing on the source out of instinct and sheer willpower, found themselves staring at a familiar cloaked form. The wounded priest barely managed to let out a startled, weak hissing sound as he groped for air, and mutter a single, anger-filled word.
The black clad mage darted between the trees atop her construct, her silver hair trailing behind her as her crimson eyes frantically searched the ground below for any sign of the two comrades she’d been separated from. Rising over an entanglement of leafless branches, Scarlet found herself soaring over a large, open clearing. It was filled with fallen bodies, with parts of precisely dismembered ghouls and violently smashed vampires mingling amidst the carnage as blood flowed freely across the ground. At the center of the clearing stood a single figure - a man in black, his black hair and mantle fluttering in the wind as his red eyes focused on the far side of the battlefield. Scarlet’s own gaze fell upon that place, and her eyes went wide with horror.
Buried in the ground by their blood-soaked blades were two swords, crossed one over the other: a darkly tinted zweihander and a curved black and white saber. And, slumped limply against a tree, lying soaked in their own mingling blood, were two familiar figures. Even until the end, Shirou had not left his brother’s side, as the three rapidly disintegrating spears piercing his body would attest. The similar lance that had been driven through Seire had already faded, leaving his body bloody and broken at the foot of the tree. And yet, despite their wounds, somehow, the two yet lived on the very brink of death, struggling for breath as they clung to the life within them.
“That man killed me at least half a dozen times,” Muttered the vampire, gazing upon the fallen knight, half with anger, half with disbelief. “And he even eradicated my followers, just to add insult to injury. Who was he, any-”
He got no further, for at that instant, a bolt of lightning pierced his chest and melted his lungs. Scarlet dropped from the sky, innumerable crimson lights filling the air around her as she landed in front of her dying comrades, her eyes wide with disbelief, and her heart full of rage.
“Really?!” Cried the vampire in exasperation as his lungs reconstructed themselves anew. “Just how many of you insects ARE there?! Seriously, I never thought I’d say this, but killing you is actually starting to get BORING! I me-”BGM: Don’t Lose Your Way (Because I Had To)
Another bolt of lightning quickly struck him in the throat, reducing his vocal cords to ash. Scarlet rounded upon him, her knuckles white as her hands clenched into fists.
“What?!” Gasped the vampire, his eyes frantically searching the clearing around him as, all around its edge, familiars aligned themselves, projecting lines and runes in all directions as the markings spread across the ground. In an instant, the entire area had suddenly been filled with an enormous magic circle the color of the mage’s namesake. The vampire realized all too well the power of the spell he was facing, understanding that whatever it was, if it was cast, it might actually pose a threat even to his nigh unkillable body. Hastily extending his hand, he created a jet black spear much like those his deceased cohorts had used, the blood from the many deaths the thieves had inflicted upon him soaking it in an instant. “Kill her!” He cried, and then tried to draw back his arm to cast the javelin and slay this girl before it was too late - to no avail. To the monster’s horror, he found that his blood refused to respond to him. Not only that - his very body refused to move.
“Are you surprised? I’d expect you are, considering that a being of your power has probably never encountered someone able to take away even his ability to move, let alone his magic,” Said Scarlet icily, her voice filled with the intent to kill.
“How?!” The vampire gasped out. “I can’t even sense any magic from you! You’re just a Human! You should have no power over me! Me, a perfect being, wielding the power of thousands of souls! This is an illusion! It must be!”
“You’re correct. I, myself, do not possess the ability to use magic. I can only wield its power by proxy through the constructs I create,” Scarlet replied coldly. “However, that does not make my magic any less real. You see, you were wrong about more than just my magic being an illusion. I am far from being ‘just a Human.’”
“What do you mean?!”
“Well, that is not entirely correct, I suppose. I was a Human - once. But that changed long ago, when I underwent a ritual that turned me into a construct capable of subdividing itself into a smaller parts. You might say that I’m as much an extension of these familiars as they are of me.”
“So what?! That changes nothing!” The vampire cried, struggling against the unseen force that immobilized him.
“On the contrary. It changes everything. You see, from the start, my purpose was set out for me. I was meant to become a being capable of slaying anyone who used the power of magic, no matter how strong they were. From the most inexperienced novice to the most adept of spellcasters, so long as they possess that power, I can overcome them. By breaking off parts of myself, I had obtained a means of storing energy outside of my own body. With each passing day, I created more familiars to store the power of my soul, then recovered my strength and repeated the process. You claimed to possess the power of thousands of souls? Well, I possess the power of my own soul, replicated in its entirety every day for seventeen years!”
“So that’s it, then! But do you seriously think you can hold me forever? You say you have the power of 6205 souls, but I possess far more! I’m bound to break free eventually, and then you’ll have nothing left with which to stop me!”
“That is also incorrect,” Said Scarlet, smirking cruelly as the magic circle beneath them intensified its glow. “You see, the reason why I can kill anyone who uses magic is because my power is irrelevant in the equation. Do you recognize the magic circle we’re standing in? It is the ritual space required to cast a powerful curse, known as the Crimson Flame.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Ah. I see you’ve not heard of it, then. You see, it’s unique among curses in that the effect of the spell isn’t fueled by the caster, but rather, by the subject’s own energy. Using the one who begins the ritual as a focus, it subverts the target’s energy and uses it to break them down into raw mana from the inside out. Of course, normally, this spell takes the full power of multiple high level spellcasters to properly execute, and even more if the subject is powerful, like yourself. For a single caster to execute it, they’d probably have to pay their entire soul several times over as a price.”
“So you intend to kill us both?!” The vampire cried incredulously.
“Of course not. Weren’t you listening? I have plenty of souls to give! So, no matter how much power it takes… I’ll rip you apart from the inside out with all of your own strength until you’re nothing but ashes in the wind!”
The Vampire’s eyes widened in surprise as he opened his mouth to cry out, only for his words to be stifled in his throat. A terrible heat was growing within him as an immense pressure began to force itself upon every inch of his body. Scarlet smirked as her voice resounded across the clearing.”Dark flame, crimson flame, the fire of hatred that consumes all life,”
Scarlet began to chant as the glow of the circle beneath them grew to a fever pitch. ”I ask of you to scorch my path, to judge the sacrifice that stands before you. In my right hand, I give you form. With my left, I offer up my heart. Now, come forth, and reduce the world before my eyes to ash, embers of the flame of Hell!”
With those words, the ground surged up, and the circle beneath them expanded outward… and then collapsed inward in a single instant, focusing directly on the vampire at its center. A surge of red light began to erupt from within his body as, for a moment, even the wind was silent.
And then, in the next instant, the forest was blown apart by an enormous explosion of crimson flames. Dry, dead trees were reduced to ashes in an instant, while the earth scattered wildly along with the dust and embers as the air was forced outward by the overwhelming explosion as the vampire, a creature from the very top of the castle, had its vast, unfathomable power converted directly to energy that exploded from within it with the force of a bomb. Smoke pillared high into the air as the darkness of the woods was lit up by a blinding light, and the silence was filled with a deafening roar as the world itself seemed to burn to the ground within the confines of the spell. At its center, the vampire writhed as his body tried to piece itself back together, only to erupt in flames anew, explosion after explosion rocking the floor for at least half a mile as Scarlet turned the vampire’s power upon it again and again, disintegrating it over and over until there was nothing left.
But, at the same time, she had more important things to worry about - like how she herself, or her comrades, would withstand the uncontainable blast of mana that was slowly expanding outward around them. Fortunately, her magic circle wasn’t quite finished yet.“Second stage! White flame, healing flame, the fire of hope that protects life! I ask of you to shield me now, to come to the aid of those who are imperiled! In my right hand, I clutch the staff of life! With my left, I offer up my body! Now, come forth, and embrace us as the world collapses, light of the heavens!”
Chanting thus, Scarlet swept out her arm, and in an instant, the magic circle expanded once again, shifting in hue from red to a brilliant, radiant white. Collapsing around herself and the two fallen warriors, it surrounded them in a wall of silvery flames, beyond which even the heat of the scarlet inferno could not penetrate. But shielding them was not all she did. Wrapping itself around the wounded thieves, the white flames licked their wounds, cauterizing them in an instant. It wouldn’t undo the danger to their lives, but at the very least, it would stop them from bleeding to death.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the flames - both red and white - faded, leaving what had once been an open clearing a desolate, scorched waste. The trees of the forest quite simply had ceased to exist, while the ground around them was piled high with displaced dirt and rubble, leaving the magician standing at the center of a vast crater.
But she wasn’t the only one there. To her disbelief, up from the rubble, a faint red light began to rise as countless particles of dust slowly reformed themselves, coalescing into the shape of the vampire once more. A hideous cackle resounded across the scorched land as he brushed the ashes from his new body.
“Well, I must admit, that was unexpected,” He laughed. “To think that a human - or, wait, so sorry, is it a sub
human?” He jeered sarcastically before continuing. “Could turn so much of my own power against me! Maybe if you hadn’t broken your circle to protect yourself, that might actually have killed me for good. Congratulations. That’s the closest anyone’s come in two centuries to ending my life. But you failed when you thought you could use a spell designed to take me down at the cost of yourself, and live through it. And now, you’ve got no power, and on top of that, you haven’t killed me. So, tell me, girl, how would you like to die?”
Scarlet smirked wickedly.
“That is… also incorrect,” She said, and snapped her fingers.
The vampire’s eyes widened in disbelief as a familiar magic circle took shape once again, and a radiant golden light rose to the heavens above, like a thunderclap that instantly rebounded, descending upon its victim. However, a closer observer might note that the comparison to lightning was perhaps a more apt one than it first seemed: for the light was actually rising from within the extremities of the Vampire’s body and rushing up to meet the initial flash from the circle’s activation, and took several large chunks of his flesh with it, burning away the edges of his body into a fine ash.
The Vampire cried out in pain, clutching the stump of his severed left arm as it flickered with clashing red and golden lights. The golden light which had disintegrated the appendage slowly drew back, surrounding the magus as she rose slowly into the air, every last one of the familiars forming the magic circle rising along with her and spiraling inward, fading into her body.
“You… What did you do?!” Hissed the vampire, gasping for breath. Even though it had been several seconds now, his arm still refused to regenerate. All of the power that should have been used to repair it was simply… gone - torn away to form the golden shroud that now surrounded the magician.
“It’s useless. You are no longer capable of regenerating your arm. That’s for what you did to my comrade. Did you think I had lost control of the energy I subverted within your body? Foolish.” Scarlet declared triumphantly. “By combining that with the mana I already tore from your body with my first spell, and the remaining power of my magic circle, this time, I’ll make sure you can’t regenerate! Third phase: Trinity Flame!”
The golden light that followed this proclamation was like the radiance of the sun itself, causing the vampire to draw back, burned by the flames surrounding the vengeful magus as she descended upon him, her power steadily growing and condensing inward until it was like a sun held within the palm of her right hand.
“You cocky bitch…!” The vampire snarled. “How many times will you waste your energy trying to kill me? It’s use-”
He got no further than this, for in the next instant, Scarlet had crossed the distance between them without even seeming to move, and had plunged her hand, as well as the golden light it held, directly through the vampire’s torso with superhuman force. Her adversary screamed as he was slammed into the ground with enough force to crack it, sending a tangible shockwave outward across the basin of the crater.
“As many times as it takes for you to stay dead,” Scarlet replied coldly, crushing the orb of golden light.
An explosion dwarfing even the first blast erupted from the crater, sending dust scattering in all directions as ashes rose high into the heavens, carried on a hurricane of golden flames. Scarlet skidded backward, the aura that had surrounded her flickering out as she shielded her eyes against the light of the fire. Had she slain the seemingly immortal creature? Had she won?
...Her hopes fell in an instant as a black form slowly rose, staggering out from amidst the fire. The vampire’s armor had been destroyed, his protective cloak incinerated, and his skin burned from his body. Yet, he was alive. Raising his remaining hand, he created a black javelin within it.
“I’ll kill you… I’ll devour all that energy you’re so proud of…!” He hissed, his voice a rasp due to the damage done to his vocal cords. Scarlet shut her eyes. All of the 6205 souls worth of magic power she had stored up over 17 years of preparation… she’d spent it all. She couldn’t even muster a single familiar now, let alone a spell. Her body was tired, battered by the shock of her own attack. The Trinity Flame had been her trump card, and it had failed. All she could do now was stand in the path of this monster, and hope to delay the deaths of her fellows.
Scarlet reached down to her side, and with the last of her strength, took up Seire’s sword where it lay. She didn’t know how to use the weapon, nor did she possess the strength to wield it properly. But for what this being had done, both to her husband and his sworn brother, she would fight him to the last, if for no other reason than to make her death, and those of the people she had failed to protect, as painful for him as possible.
The vampire closed in, and raised his lance to strike. Scarlet took hold of Seire’s sword with both hands, and responded in kind. Both combatants lunged forward at once, weapons raised to end each other, when suddenly, a single, black-gloved finger interposed itself between both upraised armaments.BGM: On the Precipice of Defeat
Seire’s sword clattered to the ground, pulsating wildly with internal light.
The vampire’s spear shattered into countless fragments, and its owner was sent hurtling head over heels across the crater, impacting into the far edge of the vast wound in the earth and lying still.
Scarlet’s eyes went wide as her namesake gaze met orbs of a matching hue, the owner of which gave a kind, yet somehow paradoxically wicked smile.
“You’re…” The Magus gasped.
“I am indeed,” said the dapper man. “That is, if you were about to say ‘...an extremely overqualified butler.’” He cocked his head to the side, almost as if he were unsure of himself, an idea that seemed utterly absurd in the face of the immense power that seemed to radiate from him. “That was what you were about to say, right?” His grin got just a bit wider, and he gave off an air of amusement, as though entertained by some fanciful toy.
“Vampire,” Hissed Scarlet, stumbling backward, but remaining on her feet so as to interpose her body between the new arrival and her wounded comrades. “But why? Why would you-”
She got no further, for in the next instant, a wild roar echoed across the crater as the vampire who had just been sent flying came streaking towards the so-called butler, hand upraised to strike at him, only to be once again deflected with ease as his target sidestepped the blow, catching the wounded Vampire by the face and tossing him almost casually over his shoulder, slamming his limp and battered body into the dirt once again.
“Now, now, Malus,” the new arrival spoke once more, this time like he was lecturing a small child that had just done something extremely silly. “Is that any way to greet someone?” He casually brushed a bit of dust kicked up from the charred ground by his attacker from the side of his flawless purple and black tunic, then twirled his long black cape behind him as he withdrew a gnarled staff from within it, poking it at a small black shape that had just crept up from beneath the blasted earth. Smiling winningly toward the stunned magus, he returned to his earlier conversation. “How would you like me to save you?”
Scarlet’s eyes darted between the newcomer, the slowly rising, irate Vampire leader, Malus, and her own fallen allies. The newly arrived Vampire smiled. “Of course I’ll save them too. Even I’m not so cold. Come now, would you doubt the man offering to save your life?” He reassured, the sneer on his face going completely against the supposedly calming intent of his words.
Scarlet’s eyes narrowed. This man could kill them all in a heartbeat. If she refused, there was no chance any of them could survive. And if she didn’t hurry, then Malus would attack again, and this man might not be so generous as to save them a third time.
“...Why?” She asked once again.
“That,” began the man, raising a single gloved finger and wagging it cheerfully as a smirk crossed his face, as though his words were some sort of joke known only to himself. “...is because you’re interesting.” He motioned to the vast crater in which they stood, at the center of which only the cockroach he was currently prodding idly with his staff had survived. He was… impressed? “Now, then, will you accept my offer or not?”
Scarlet opened her mouth to respond.
Malus screamed, leaped to his feet, and dived for the Magus.
“Yes,” she said.
The man smiled, and crushed the cockroach beneath his staff. “Fantastic,” He said cheerfully, and turned his gaze to the oncoming vampire.
Malus was then instantly flattened, exactly as the insect had been flattened a moment before. This time, he did not rise.
“Shall we be going, then?” He said, smiling. “I have one last important matter to attend to, you see.”
The man smiled, and a vast darkness began to creep over the woods. Just as the shadows reached the edge of the crater, reality bent several degrees to the left, and the thieves vanished just moments before the darkness passed over, consuming all in its path. The ground trembled and broke, falling away into an endless, yawning void beyond. The mountains shuddered and caved in. The trees that had not been incinerated instantly were instead consumed by the endlessly expanding shadows as the screams of ghouls and vampires alike resounded throughout the wilderness, each cry bringing with it a renewed wave of eldritch blackness to sweep over all things before it.
As the darkness took him, the horrified Malus extended his remaining limb towards the sky, his eyes meeting those of the traitor who had bested him as he uttered three words.
“Damn you… Berith…!”
The traitorous Vampire clapped his hands with delight as the curtain fell on the final act of this particular tragedy. The heroes had played their parts well, but ultimately in vain. The villains had been toppled, but at what cost, he wondered? Even now, the protagonist of his expertly woven tale was becoming something that transcended simple heroism or villainy, and a new monster was being created. His face twisted into a mad grin, and he pronounced the final line of his act as the second floor wilderness was swallowed below. “Acta est fabula,” he said.
And then, there was nothing.
"The Apocalypse is basically just a tutorial." - Sicon112.
"Due to the ambiguity of this wording, I am unable to determine whether or not I am the leader of the X-Men!"
"UNIVERSE-BREAKING EPILEPSY RAVE!" - AMimsyBorogove