"There he goes!"
Ken barely heard the hissed warning. They were heading back from the club, and he was having a hard enough time just walking straight, clinging to Farfarello's wiry arm for balance. Sated by their exercise in the bathroom but fighting off a migraine brought on by the feeling of death all around him, he wasn't aware that something was happening until he was jostled roughly aside by a Vampire that went darting into the shadows of an alley. Ken blinked in confusion as another joined his partner, rushing around the building as if to cut someone off from the other side.
He looked up at Farfarello quizzically, but the Irishman was already staring at Nathan in a silent demand for an explanation.
Nathan gave a disarming smile, but Ken thought he detected the faintest hint of annoyance in his eyes at this sudden occurrence. "Just a little rat that managed to get away from us the other day," he murmured. "This will only take a moment."
There was a shriek from the alley, followed by a whoop of mean laughter-- which abruptly turned into a howl of pain. Ken stared, confused and fascinated, as crashes, curses, and shouts exploded from the alley while the collected Vampires cringed, looking around warily to see if all the noise had attracted anyone's attention. But the few pedestrians that were on the streets by Nathan's club knew better than to get involved, and didn't even look their way.
"George! Larry!" Nathan snarled an order when there was a moment's silence.
The two Vampires emerged a moment later, scowling darkly at the small form they were dragging between them. The bigger of the two Vampires flicked his Master a disgruntled look. He muttered something, but Ken was far too out of it to even attempt a translation.
Then he took a closer look at the weakly struggling child held tight between the two Vampires.
"It's that boy from before," he blurted, releasing Farfarello's arm and pushing aside a Vampire partially obstructing his view. "Wait, let him go," he insisted.
Nathan had leaned over to look the terrified child in the eye, speaking quietly, but he straightened at Ken's loud interruption. "No need to concern yourself with this street rat," he said calmly. "He merely needs to be silenced, that's all. I'm afraid he's seen too much."
"He's just a kid-" Ken started to protest. His hair stood on end as if there were static electricity in the air, and he managed to throw his arms before his face protectively just before the blow hit.
Nathan and Ken, who were closest, were sent crashing into the ranks behind them. The two Vampires who'd been holding the boy yelped as the force slammed into them, and went spinning into the wall.
Ken pushed himself to his hands and knees, head whirling, in time to glimpse Farfarello darting past, hand flicking in and out of his pocket almost too fast to see as he retrieved one of his knives.
"Farfarello--" Ken cried, too late.
The boy had not been expecting such a fast and violent retaliation. He gave a squeak of fear as Farfarello seized him by the collar, jerked him up on his toes, and pressed the blade against the side of his throat, almost hard enough to draw blood.
The boy froze, huge eyes darting from Farfarello to the others. His gaze landed on Ken, and he bared his teeth in a brief show of defiance. "I knew you were with them," he panted.
Nathan rose to his feet gracefully, patting himself off and ignoring those he had cannoned into. He turned suspicious eyes on Ken as the Necromancer got painfully to his own feet. "You know this brat?"
"We ran into him earlier," Ken explained hastily. "On the way to meet you. He's just a kid, Nathan.. sama," he remembered to add belatedly.
The Pureblood was too distracted by the boy to notice Ken's momentary lapse. "He is a psychic," he murmured. "How interesting. Some of my people said as much, but I didn't believe them until now." He held out a hand in an obvious command, meeting Farfarello's glare with an imperious stare of his own.
"Farfarello," Ken protested.
The Irishman hesitated, narrowed eye flicking from his lover to Nathan and back again. The child in his grasp seemed to realize he had just seconds to explain himself, and began babbling, his Japanese harsh and badly accented in his fright.
"Don't, they'll kill me," he gasped. "They hurt Eric, my friend, but I got away. These bastards hurt him real bad, but I got to get him back. I got to take him home-"
"Where's home?" Ken interrupted hastily.
"Laterose," the boy answered, starting to lift a hand as if to point out a direction, then thinking better of it. "It's an orphanage," he explained impatiently at Ken's blank look. "Some Catholic place. Eric's my best friend in the whole world. I can't just leave him to these creeps. And if I don't take him back, Sister Rita's going to call the police, but these guys just kill police--" he gave a gurgled noise of startled terror as the knife at his throat suddenly pressed closer, and Farfarello gave a low hiss of rage.
"Farfarello," Ken said sharply, taking a quick step forward. "Don't-"
Farfarello didn't seem to hear him. He was glaring into the child's horrified eyes. "A little lost lamb," he murmured. "Away from his little pure flock. Your Sister," he said the word like a curse, "will scream for her god when she finds your body."
Nathan was smiling approvingly, a savage look that made him look more animal than human. Ken ducked past the taller man and hurried over to his lover, laying a careful hand on his shoulder. "Farfarello," he said quietly but earnestly. "He's just a kid. Let him go."
"Wh-what's wrong with this guy??" the boy squeaked, huge eyes shooting from one man to the other.
Ken winced. "He has a bit of a, er, grudge against religion. And nuns."
Nathan was so quiet, Ken didn't hear him come up behind him. He almost jumped out of his skin when the Pureblood's hand fell on his shoulder. "Stand down, Necromancer," he purred, sounding amused. "This should be interesting. I've always wanted to see the infamous Berserker in action."
Ken turned sharply to stare at him, and Farfarello's eye finally tore itself from the boy in his grip to pin Nathan to the spot. 'Berserker' had been his codename in Schwarz. The Vampires referred to him as 'Lucifer'.
"Where did you hear that name?" Ken demanded.
The smile disappeared from Nathan's face as he realized he'd perhaps let something slip. "Word travels fast, that's all."
Farfarello's eye narrowed suspiciously, and Ken flicked him a warning look. Unease churned in his gut. He reached out and took the boy's arm. Farfarello glared at him, distracted from his stare-down with Nathan, but Ken met his gaze fearlessly. "Let go," he said quietly.
Slowly Farfarello's fingers loosened, and Ken tugged the boy to his side. "No one's going to hurt you," he told the wide-eyed child. "What's your name?"
The kid squinted up at him suspiciously, and Ken bared his teeth to show his lack of fangs. "...Gabriel," he muttered at last. Feeling a little bolder now that he was out of Farfarello's grasp, he glared defiantly up at Nathan. "Where's Eric?" he demanded.
Nathan's smile was cruel. "Long dead, brat. And you'll be joining him soon enough."
"I don't think so," Ken said loudly, putting himself between the child and Nathan. He met Nathan's stare with an unwavering gaze of his own, and tilted his chin up in challenge. "The kid comes with us," he said firmly.
Nathan's eyes narrowed slightly, but Farfarello stepped forward and seized the child's shirt in a fist, lifting him onto his toes again. He flicked the Pureblood a sideways, hooded glance. "Dessert," he mouthed, as if trying to hide his intentions from Ken, who didn't see the silent exchange.
Nathan's mouth curled in a lazy smile, and he held up his hands to show his defeat. "Very well, Necromancer," he said, sounding amused. "Enjoy." Chuckling, he motioned for his people to keep walking. "We will discuss the treaty tomorrow night," he said. "I think you'd better get your feeder home, Farfarello. He looks like he's had a long night."
Farfarello nodded wordlessly, and Nathan strode off with his pack. Ken watched him go before turning and arching a brow suspiciously at his lover. "Why did he give in so quickly?"
"It's because this freak's gonna eat me!" Gabriel hollered, trying to wrench himself free.
Farfarello released him abruptly, and the boy fell on his ass with a grunt. Ken hid a smile and squatted down in front of the boy, offering a hand. "Farfarello isn't going to eat you. Look, I think you'd better come with us, at least for tonight. You can tell us about what happened. Maybe we can help you find your friend and get you back to your orphanage."
Gabriel looked at the hand for a long moment, then fixed Ken with a suspicious stare. Finally, reluctantly, he accepted the hand and let Ken pull him to his feet.
"So where did you learn to speak Japanese?" Ken asked curiously as they turned their feet in the direction of the hotel.
Gabriel opened his mouth to answer, then shot a wary look towards Farfarello and changed his mind.
"Let me guess," Ken said quietly. "The Sister taught you." He ignored his lover's low growl.
Gabriel nodded mutely, staring sullenly at the ground as he walked.
Ken met Farfarello's gaze over the child's head, begging with his eyes.
Farfarello sneered at him. Across their bond he spoke, not in words, but in ideas and vague images that created a statement just as clearly as if he'd said it out loud. You're a bleeding heart.
Look, Farf, I worked with kids for years when I joined Weiß. I just can't let this kid get killed when I could've done something. Besides, you saw what he did. He's a telekinetic. Just like Nagi.
Farfarello's eye narrowed at the mention of his dead companion, and he looked away, fangs still bared irritably. Ken tactfully let the matter drop, and the three continued on their way in silence.
After Laura's call earlier that day, it had taken only the work of a moment for Felix to get into the school's system and pull up Aya's home of record.
He'd sent the third member of his team to check it out, telling him to get as much information as he could and to leave a message for the rest of the traitors of Schwarz. A message in blood.
Ran was splitting up a check for a party of three people when the bell over the door rang, alerting him of another customer. "Find a seat, I'll bring you a menu in a minute," he called without looking up as he fished change from the cash register.
He doled out the change, watched the three young men leave, and retrieved a menu from under the counter, eyes scanning the room for his newest customer. He spotted him after a moment's search, seated at the table farthest from the windows, in the one patch of shadow in the restaurant. As he edged around the counter and strode over, his mouth twitched into a frown.
The man was all skin and bones; tall, skinny, and gaunt-faced. His lank black hair hung like gossamer curtains, framing his narrow face, and his eyes were sunken and dark as a night without stars. And he was pale. Paler even than Farfarello had been before he'd started drinking blood again. His clothes were in such muted colors of browns, grays, and blacks, that it was almost impossible to tell at first whether they were old or new. His long-fingered hands were placed on the table before him, and he watched Ran come with his soulless eyes from around a strand of dark hair. He had a large, hooked nose over thin, bloodless lips. He was the most unpleasant looking person Ran could remember seeing in quite some time. And obviously a foreigner. There was a guitar case on the floor by his feet, the casing chipped and scratched from years of use.
Ran reached the table and placed the menu by one of the big hands, flicking his eyes up to meet the other man's stare. He kept on a mask of cold indifference, though his skin crawled at the close proximity, and all his basest instincts told him to get to the other side of the room. "What would you like to drink?"
"Water is fine." The man's voice was slow and gravelly, like someone who always thought carefully about every word he said. At least his Japanese was pretty good. Ran nodded curtly and returned to the counter, his back itching at having to turn away from the other man. He could feel the stranger's stare on him the whole way to the kitchen.
He found a glass and poured a cup of water, glancing towards Keiko, who was leaning over the window she set the food in, staring at their guest. "Now there's a character," she whistled. "Looks like death himself, don't he?"
"Get back to work," Ran grunted, setting down the pitcher of water.
"Keep your pants on, dearie," Keiko said, unconcerned, as she turned back to the stove.
Ran scowled at her back and headed back for the foreigner's table, glass in hand.
He set the water down with a plunk and started to turn away again. A hand wrapped around his wrist in a loose grasp, the touch cold and smooth as stone. Ran had to fight down the urge to snatch his hand away as he turned to look back at his strange customer.
"Would you mind if I played a little?" the man asked in his slow, raspy voice. His eyes, dark and deep as pits, seemed to pin Ran to the floorboards. "I'll play quietly."
"...Do what you want," Ran managed to say at last, once he was sure his voice would come out cool and distant. The hand released him, and he returned to the register to count the money, absently rubbing his wrist against his pant leg.
He watched the stranger out of the corner of his eye as he opened the register and began flipping through bills, his mouth set in a small, wary frown.
The thin man took a few slow, careful sips of water, smacked his lips appreciatively, as if he'd just tasted fine wine, then set the glass back down exactly where it had been before. He leaned over and opened his guitar case, lifting the lid and retrieving his prize. It was an ordinary guitar, the kind Ran had seen in the old American western films Yohji had-- he cut off that thought with a twinge of pain. This guitar was painted black, however; even the strings were blackened. The only relief was a tiny painting in red of a moon and three stars on the base of the instrument.
The man settled the guitar in his lap, fiddling with the keys at the top for a moment as he strummed the strings, tuning it. Keiko's head appeared in the window again at the noise, but Ran hardly noticed. A few other customers were also sending strange glances towards the guitar man, startled by his looks as much as the noise.
Evidently satisfied at the sounds coming from his instrument, the thin man settled back in his chair, met Ran's eyes across the room with a dead stare of his own, and drew his fingers down the strings heavily.
The noise that emitted was harsh, jangled, and totally off-key from what Ran could tell. Several of the customers winced, and Keiko's eyebrows shot up to her hairline before she ducked back into her kitchen, too polite to comment. The man, however, seemed undisturbed at the noises coming from his guitar, and continued to strum as if he was playing the most ordinary song in the world.
Some of the customers began to mutter, but their voices barely registered in Ran's brain. He couldn't seem to tear his eyes from the stranger's stare, and the longer he stared and listened, the more the disjointed notes started to resemble something of a tune. A tune that made him think of crawling things, dark things, things that went bump in the night. The vision of the man with the guitar seemed to blur, and his eyes fluttered a few times. The money fell from his numb fingers, and he swayed backwards.
His back connecting with the wall jolted him back to awareness, and he jerked his head to the side, tearing his gaze from the other man's. He stared around the shop in growing shock and disbelief.
Every single customer was slumped in their chairs, some of them with their faces in their plates. A few of them were snoring softly.
Asleep. All of them were fast asleep. Ran shook his head, trying to sharpen his focus. Everything seemed muted and his eyes kept trying to droop.
The skeletal player rose to his feet slowly, chair creaking, and began to walk forward in slow, deliberate steps. He never took his eyes from Ran, and his fingers continued to pluck at the keys in his haunting melody.
Some shop owners kept a gun under the counter in case of an emergency. Ran tended to be a little more traditional.
He reached under the counter and seized the katana hidden there, drawing it with a hiss of silver-coated steel. He sidestepped, getting out from behind the counter and giving himself room to swing as he tightened his grip on the sword, holding it high by his shoulder in preparation for a killing blow as he glared warningly at the advancing man.
"Who are you?" he demanded harshly.
The stranger ignored the question, his eyes wide and luminous as he pinned Ran to the spot with his stare. "Go to sleep," he whispered, his voice like dead leaves on the grass. The music seemed to tangle in the air, making it hard to think straight.
Ran's knees wobbled, and he locked them to prevent a fall. He gritted his teeth and put all his will into staying upright and conscious. "Who sent you?" he growled.
The man smiled, and Ran thought for a fleeting instant that he was looking upon the face of death. Thin lips stretched wide over perfectly white teeth, making his face look even more skeletal. "I have a message for Schwarz," he whispered.
Ran swung the sword.
The man was quicker than he looked. He ducked the blow, darting under Ran's arms and thrusting his face right into the shorter man's. Ran gasped and jerked back, but the wall was just a foot behind him, and he had nowhere to run. His eyes flew to the side and landed on the clock by the counter. Aya. Aya would be home soon, and she would meet this madman--
He sent out his call in a wild shout, even as long fingers strong as steel shot out and wrapped around his throat.
Schuldich!! Don't bring her here! It's Rosen--
The narrow butt of the guitar slammed into his stomach, doubling him over and driving the wind from him. An instant later the hand jerked him back upright, and he stared wildly into dark eyes so close to his own, gasping for breath.
"Die, Weiß," the man murmured, still smiling like a skeleton.
Ran reached up and seized the hand gripping his throat. "Fuck you," he ground out between gasps. Flames erupted from his fingers.
The man yanked his hand back, quick as a cat, but the fire had already caught hold, and was racing up his sleeve. He took a step back, waving the arm in the air in a half-hearted attempt to put out the fire, still staring at Ran maddeningly. Ran took the few seconds' reprieve to drop and roll out of reach. He leapt to his feet, sword at the ready once more.
The man turned slowly to face him, finally succeeding in beating out the flames against his leg. If it hurt him, the pain didn't show in his face. He slung his guitar over his shoulder by its strap, movements slow and deliberate, and pulled a slim object from his back pocket. He held it up for Ran to see and pushed his thumb against the tab on its side. A razor slid out, sharp and deadly, and he smiled his eerie smile again. He took a step forward, wielding the box cutter like a knife, never taking his eyes from Ran's.
Ran was unnerved despite himself. The man was inhuman. He feinted to the left, then darted to the right, swinging in a blow meant to cut off the man's arm.
Again the stranger was too fast. He dodged the blow, hand darting out in retaliation. Ran managed to jerk his head aside just in time, and gasped as the razor sliced open his cheek. He'd misjudged the length of the man's arms. He took a few quick steps back and glared hatred at his enemy, heart thundering. Had Schuldich gotten his message? Would he actually listen for once, and keep Aya away? He tried to push away thoughts of his sister, focusing on the problem at hand. He couldn't get inside the man's guard. His arms were too long, his reach too far. If he tried to get in close enough for a blow, he'd only get cut again. His sword lengthened his own reach, but it also needed room to swing in order to have any effect, while the thin stranger didn't need much maneuvering room to deal damage with his own weapon. A simple flick of the wrist in the right place, and Ran's throat could be slit.
This was not a fight for steel. Ran took another step back and lifted his sword over his head as if he was about to bring it down in a crashing blow. The stranger's smile stretched wide again, and there was a flicker of condescending amusement in his eyes. He was out of range, and he knew it. "Don't bother fighting," he rasped. "Just die quietly... fall into eternal slumber."
"Why don't you?" Ran snarled. He loosed the flames from his hands, and the fire raced up his sword. He brought the sword down hard, and the roaring fire spun from his blade and shot for his startled opponent.
The man was fast, but not fast enough. He managed to avoid the brunt of the blow, but his right side caught on fire. He hissed in the first sign of pain, and stumbled back. The flames licked merrily at his clothes, reaching for skin, and his smile turned into a grimace. The only way to put out the fire would be to drop and roll, but that would leave him open for a few precious seconds. And a few seconds was all Ran needed.
Ran came at him, aiming a blow to decapitate the other man. The stranger hissed at him like an enraged cat and hurled the box cutter like a throwing knife. Ran parried hastily, managing to deflect the blow with his sword. The razor clattered off the blade and impaled itself in the wall a few feet away. He turned his attention back on his enemy, but the man was already halfway out the door, clothes ablaze.
Ran lowered his sword and let his back bump against the wall as he caught his breath. He turned his head slightly and stared at the razor sticking from the wall. Bile rose in his throat, burning his tongue.
He'd actually let himself hope that maybe it was all over. That with the Four of Rosenkreuz dead, he could accept Crawford's reassurances that Rosenkreuz would have no reason to track them down again. But the man he had just fought had known about Schwarz. And he had put people to sleep just by playing his guitar. There was no doubt in Ran's mind that this was another student of the madmen of Rosenkreuz's "School for the Gifted".
He pushed himself away from the wall, feeling tired and still a little weak-kneed. He was sliding the katana back into its sheath and stashing it under the counter once more when the door burst open, making his grip on the sword tighten in reflex.
Schuldich rushed into the restaurant, wielding a gun and teeth bared in preparation for a fight. "Rosenkreuz!" he spat the name like a curse. "Where are they?"
Aya appeared at his side an instant later, panting for breath and staring at the sleeping customers in surprised confusion. "What's going on here? What was the big rush?" She looked for her brother. "'Niisan, what happened??" she gasped, spotting the long cut on his cheek.
Ran could only stare at them, still bent over in the act of putting away his sword. Finally he straightened, eyes narrowing angrily. "I told you to keep her away from here," he snapped. "What if she'd come when he was still here??"
"He? He who?" Schuldich demanded quickly. He strode over, finger moving automatically to switch on the safety of his firearm.
A few of the customers began to stir, one of them groaning. Aya hurried over to check on them.
"Put that thing away," Ran hissed quickly.
Schuldich stuffed the gun reluctantly into an inner pocket of his coat, eyes narrowing as he focused on the blood dripping from the cut on Ran's cheek. "What in the hell happened here?"
Ran glared at him before looking over his shoulder at where Aya was tending to the confused customers. "Let me get them out of here first," he said in a low voice. "Call Crawford." He turned and disappeared into the kitchen to check on Keiko.
"Ch'!" Schuldich slouched against the counter moodily, looking around for clues. His eyebrows shot up when his searching gaze landed on the razor. He strode over and yanked it from the wall, studying it in silence as Aya began to escort some of the customers out the door.
Crawford, you'd better get your ass home to your little lover boy's soup kitchen. We have a slight problem.
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