I spent a good bit of time weaving a telepathic shield around Sakura last night. I used what was left of her blocked mind to anchor it, and now when anyone looks at her they see her hair as blue instead of brown. It’s a bit of a trick to get her from my room to the room Fujimiya Aya is in- a trick but not impossible. Most everyone is gathered in the chambers, ready for the ceremony. I use my gift to keep the others from seeing us as Schwarz moves swiftly down the halls. I can hear the rumble of a few hundred voices echoing off the stones as we draw closer to the doors that lead from the tower underground. Ikida is the sole inhabitant of the room, waiting beside the altar. Aya has just been moved from her bed to the elaborate stone. Ikida looks up when we come sweeping down the stairs, all in white and with this girl hanging limp in my arms. She’s completely identical to Aya now, the perfect little substitute. This is Estet’s only chance for another eight hundred years to perform this ritual… We will let them have it and we will watch as it fails for them. Weiss is here now; I can feel their minds washing over mine. They will help us… They will be quite willing to take out the throng of followers.
“What?” Ikida asks, sending a sharp look from Aya to Sakura. “Who is that?”
Nagi moves over to the altar, sliding Aya free of it. I step forward and set Sakura down in place, neatly lacing her fingers together and setting her fingers on her chest. I smooth her gown and her hair and study the picture, satisfied with the results. Nagi carries Aya back to her bed and sets her down there. Ikida is looking from one to the other still, bewildered, and finally turns on me. “What is going on?” he demands.
“Do me a favor, Ikida.” I send him a lazy smirk, green eyes glowing in anticipation of tonight. “Get out of here.”
“Get out and find a place far away to watch.” I flick my bangs out of my face before reaching down to smooth my fingers over Sakura’s cheek. “Things are going to get very ugly soon.”
“Is this the Council’s orders?” he wants to know. It’s the only conclusion he can draw, that Rosenkreuz is turning on Estet.
I tilt my head to one side, letting my smirk spread wider. “Who?” I ask.
His eyes widen and he stares at me in horrified surprise. I reach forward, taking hold of his shoulder, and lead him towards the stairs. “Get out,” I tell him. “If you never do anything else for me again, just get out.” He looks up at me and I arch an eyebrow at him, the perfect picture of condescending amusement. “Don’t you trust me?” I ask.
He hesitates, not liking this, not liking this at all. I can see the faint edges of panic in his eyes, can see worry and alarm. But Ikida, like I knew he would…takes my side. And he may not like this, but he does trust me. There is a great sadness on his face as he considers what we’re doing, as he considers the results of what we’re going to do tonight.
“I hope your devil’s luck is still with you,” he says at last, and he starts up the stairs. I watch him go. He has just turned out of sight when the doors behind us open. This side of the doors is elaborate marble and fine paint. Through the doors is the rock ledge where the Elders are conducting the ceremony. Such a difference a set of doors can make.
“Bring the host!” one of them shouts.
Crawford takes hold of the altar and obediently rolls it through the doors. He returns just a few moments later, pulling them closed behind him. Farfarello makes himself comfortable on the stairs, toying with one of his retractable blades. I bat my bangs out of my face. I have no headband to keep them back when I’m wearing this white suit, and they’re just a little aggravating. I offer the sleeping Fujimiya Aya a thin smile.
/Almost there,/ I tell her. /Things are almost finished./
It doesn’t take long at all. We watch as the ritual goes to hell, my gift picking up on everything that’s going on in the chambers and broadcasting it to my team. We listen to the chaos in silence, listen to Weiss as they kill two of the Elders. The second the first one dies, I know the Council is alerted. Hoffmann might not be paying much attention to what’s going on here, trusting us, but there’s no way he could miss the alarm and horror I’m sure the Elders experience before Weiss runs them through. I take a deep breath, wondering how the Council is going to react, and finally release the locks I had in place over Sakura’s mind.
Take that, you fuckers.
The last Elder comes bursting through the doors then and starts screaming at us. Crawford isn’t really interested in him. Neither is Farfarello; the Irishman pushes himself up from his perch. A hiss of metal against metal signals that his blade has slid out to full length and he takes slow steps down the stairs towards the old man. The Elder takes one look at him and the murderous gleam in his eye and retreats. His thoughts ring loudly of ‘Traitors’ and I smirk, knowing that that sharp sense of betrayal is definitely going to reach Hoffmann’s gift. It will help him figure out what’s going on.
“What are you doing?” The Elder demands, backing away from a still retreating Farfarello. “If you want lands to rule, I will guarantee you territory when the new empire comes. We’ll have treaties.”
“An empire?” Crawford echoes softly. “We have no interest in such things.”
“Then what?” the Elder demands, looking from one to the other. He searches our eyes, bewildered, furious, betrayed.
Farfarello gives him an eerie smile. “Our time,” he says, and the Elder’s response is one of incomprehension.
“What you are doing here today, what you were trying to do, is chase dreams of the past.” Crawford flicks his fingers in dismissal. “Nobody needs a new empire.”
“Those dreams of yours are worthless,” I tell him.
“Arrogant bastards,” the Elder starts, a furious snarl. He lifts his hand to knock Farfarello away but our Irishman grabs hold of his wrist, yanking him forward and driving the blade straight through his middle. He makes a gurgled sound and Farfarello supports him where he’s hunched over the weapon, gazing down at his bowed head dispassionately as blood spreads on the floor. Some of it is on Farfarello as well. That Irishman couldn’t keep a white suit clean if it killed him.
“And what if your new empire got established?” Crawford wants to know. “All it would produce is more of the same order. We have no interest in such a thing. What we want is freedom from rule.”
He forces his head up to stare at us. Sweat runs down the side of his face and his eyes are narrowed to slits. His hands are shaking where they’re planted against his middle, one to either side of the sword that rests in his gut. Seven inches of bloody blade protrude from his back. “You think that’s possible…?” he inquires, and somehow manages to get scorn into the gurgled words.
“Ch’!” I give an arrogant toss of my shoulder. “With powers like ours, we could survive anything.”
Nagi makes a small gesture towards Aya, tilting his head to one side. There is just the barest hit of derision in his voice. “With powers like ours, we could even call up the devil.” If the Elders thought that they could call up a psychic demon, than the difference in power between us is enough that we could call up the dark lord himself. The Elder’s eyes narrow at Nagi’s words and his lips pull back around bloody teeth in a snarl.
Farfarello curls a hand in the old man’s hair, pulling his head back. “There is nothing more to say,” he informs him, and gives a brutal wrench of his knife. With a final strangled shout, the Elder dies. Farfarello rises, pulling his blade free and giving it a shake to get some of the blood free.
I study the dead form for a while before turning a wide smirk on Crawford. “Well,” I say. “That was the last of them.”
“You still have us,” a harsh voice comes, and the four of us turn to find Weiss striding through the doors. Sakura is with them and she stares around the room in shock, taking in the final crumpled body and the blood on Farfarello.
“My, my, how wonderful to see you again,” I drawl, offering them a wide smirk. “You’re looking a little beat up, did you know that?”
“I’ve come for Aya,” Ran announces, taking a bold step forward.
I look over my shoulder at the sleeping girl, then turn back to him. “So?” I want to know. There’s a moment as they struggle to understand my careless answer, four sets of narrowed eyes studying me suspiciously. I arch my eyebrows at them, gesturing over my shoulders. “Well?” I ask. “She’s right there.”
“What are you trying to play at?” Kudou demands.
I look over at Nagi. “Am I playing at something?” I inquire.
“When aren’t you, Schuldich?” is his bored response.
“You make it sound as if I’m untrustworthy. Saa…” I slide both hands along the back of my neck to flick my hair out from my shoulders, turning amused green eyes back on Weiss. They haven’t moved. They don’t know what to make of this, don’t know what sort of trap we’ve set up for them. And in a way, it is a trap, for they’re here now when things have gone to shit between us and the Talents’ world. “Not interested after all?” I ask Ran.
He draws his sword just as Sakura starts forward. Tsukiyono tries to grab her elbow, to pull her back, but misses. Her bare feet slap over the ground as she races towards Aya’s bed. She slows as she reaches me, edging past me with a wary look on her face, and then scoots the last couple inches to the sleeping girl. She hasn’t got a clue what’s going on. The last thing she remembers is being at our flat. She doesn’t know where she is or what’s happened, but she’s knows she wants Aya out of here and she isn’t too afraid of me to come for her.
“Let’s go, Aya,” she says to the sleeping girl, starting to tug at her.
I move up behind her, resting my hands on her shoulders. I feel her go rigid at my touch and I lean down, a wide smirk on my face. “You said you believe in happy endings,” I tell her, low enough that no one else can hear me, speaking right into her ear. I wonder why I’m bothering. “If that’s true, than I suggest you start running, fast.”
Ran finally snaps. “Get away from her!” he snarls, charging forward.
I release Sakura, ignoring the confused look she sends my way. All of Weiss is flying towards us, ready to kill us and end their day as the supreme victors. I dodge Kudou’s wire as it comes flying towards me, arching an eyebrow at him. “You’re no longer a concern of ours,” I tell him. “You’ve outlived your usefulness, so unless you want to die, I think you should just call it quits for the day.”
“We’ll see about that, bastard!” he snarls, lunging towards me. Past him I can see Sakura easing Aya’s limp body towards the door. She’s having trouble; she’s not strong enough to tote the other girl out of here. A red haired lady appears in the doorway. Long time no see; it’s Takatori Shuuichi’s chic. She’s coming to help Weiss but the second Sakura appears in front of her, she changes her plans and takes hold of Aya. All three girls vanish down the hall.
There is a deafening crack, then, and everyone falters as we try to figure out where it’s coming from. Green eyes search the walls to see where the foundation is starting to give away. As I watch, there is a shudder of power, and cracks start racing up from the floor to the ceiling until the walls look like massive spider webs. The building shakes, a slow lurch beneath us, and we stumble even as we try to keep our balance.
“Something tells me that’s Mosuli,” I call to Crawford.
“Something tells me he isn’t happy,” is his response.
Then the ceiling begins to rain down on us, giant chunks of rock that could easily squish any of us. Nagi gives up on crushing Tsukiyono and casts his power upwards, creating a shield over the room. Weiss is looking around, uncertain of what to do now. Do they keep fighting us or do they make a break for it?
Kudou looks towards me. I offer him a condescending smirk. “I told you…you should have just left.”
He opens his mouth but never gets the words out. The rocks roar beneath us and the floor surges upwards, breaking in a hundred places. The air is full of startled shouts and suddenly we’re all falling. It’s a sick feeling; I feel my stomach flop as we plummet down towards the water. Everything is falling around us- the tower is being completely destroyed, as are the chambers beneath it. All I can hear is the sound of the building exploding and the crashes as giant boulders fall into the ocean. A rock comes flying straight towards me and hits something else before it can touch me, banging into an invisible barrier. I look for Nagi but can’t see him through the falling rubble.
And then I hit the water.
I don’t feel it- Nagi’s gift is wrapped like a tight bubble around me and it catches the force of impact. I sink a far ways down, the speed of my fall driving me deep until all I can see is murky darkness. Rocks are falling all around me and I know that somewhere there are people, too. I just can’t see them yet. It seems like forever that I float underwater, watching the water as it laps against the edges of Nagi’s barrier. And then finally I realize I’m being yanked upwards- I can see sunlight starting to filter through the waves.
I pass Ran as I’m being pulled back towards the surface. He’s sinking, a little stunned from something he hit on the way down. I reach out, forcing my fingers out of Nagi’s bubble to tangle them through his hair, and yank him upwards with me. He gasps for air as his head breaks the surface, pain in his scalp and the rush of oxygen enough to rouse him. I let him go then and Nagi pulls me over towards the rest of Schwarz. After a moment, his telekinetic bubbles vanish and the cold water soaks through my suit. A glance back at Weiss shows them floating together as well, trying to take stock of injuries. They took the fall worse than we did; there are a couple broken limbs and some impressive gashes amongst them. They cast a wary look our way when they notice my attention and I offer them a wide smirk, turning back to Crawford.
“Jesus, this water is cold,” I say. “Let’s get out of here.”
Fully aware of the suspicious and hateful looks being sent our way, we start towards the shore. After a while Weiss follows, as their only other choice is to just tread water out here. They’re too exhausted for such a thing. So they follow behind us but we ignore them, pretending we can’t feel their piercing stares. We’re about to have much more important things to worry about…Weiss can go screw themselves if they think they’re important anymore.
The shore seems forever away but we manage to make it. As we’ve finally reached sand we can stand on, we spot a line of people waiting for us. There are eight of them, standing shoulder to shoulder, watching us as we approach. It’s the team Rosenkreuz brought in to build the chambers, minus Aine and the three that have been killed already. Ran is even with me then and pauses when he sees them. There are some rocky cliffs to our left and Weiss is holding onto them, almost sapped of their remaining strength. Ran studies the eight in unhappy silence before finally lifting the tip of his sword above water. He has no energy but if there is a fight he will still try.
I reach over towards him, touching my hand to the top of his sword and gently pushing it back underwater. He shoots me a quick glance and I offer him a wry smirk. I think that maybe, just maybe, I might tell him everything one day, if only because the truth about our careful manipulation of him and his sister will piss him off.
“This isn’t your fight,” I tell him. He frowns, eyes narrowing as he searches my face. “In a way, it never has been. So you float here like a good little giftless assassin, and let’s see if one really can make a future.” I let go of his sword and look over to my team. They are regarding the eight in calm silence. Crawford’s expression is cool, Nagi’s indifferent. Farfarello lifts his blade to his mouth and licks it, turning a hungry look on the group. I feel my smirk pull into more of a grin and reach up, pushing my soaked hair over my shoulder before turning a devil-may-care expression on the group waiting for us. “Good evening, boys.”
“What the hell are you thinking?” one explodes, taking a step forward. “What have you done?”
I look over at Crawford. “Have we done something?” I inquire.
“I think we just destroyed Estet,” he answers back.
“Oh, that.” I arch an eyebrow at the eight and as one, Schwarz starts moving forward. “Is that a bad thing?”
The Talent’s eyes narrow and sudden there is an impact in the air. Lightning sizzles between us as Nagi calmly deflects the blow sent our way. We step out of the water onto the sand, but the tide still washes over our shoes. I feel like a drowned rat. In a short time, I might be a dead drowned rat. That sucks; I didn’t want to die looking like such a mess.
Fire explodes in the air in front of us, searing up briefly. Nagi’s gift moves to meet it, and the force of the powers hitting sends a hot breeze over us. His telekinesis rips the flames apart and a breath later, the four pyrokinetics are dead. His gift hits them with a sickening crunch, shattering their bones and everything else inside, and they sag towards the ground.
/Don’t overthrow that,/ I warn Nagi, sending him a sideways look. /You’re going to need everything you have in just a minute./
He lifts a hand, running the back of it along his mouth. ~What level was your bouncer?~
The question throws me a moment as I try to figure out where it came from and what the significance is. Again telekinesis clashes midair. This time neither side backs off. The air sizzles in front of us, jagged lines of energy twisting through the air. The four telekinetics are working together, their hands outstretched as they forced their combined power forwards. It’s two four ranked, a five, and a six, versus our lone Nagi. The sizzles slide a bit closer to us and Nagi lifts his hand from his mouth, brushing his bangs out of his face.
~What rank?~ he asks again.
I dimly remember telling him once upon a time that I had a telekinetic bouncer, and I frown at him even as I give him an answer. /A six./
He nods. ~All right, then.~ He lifts his hand from where it was hanging at his side and all of a sudden there is a small explosion of power around him. The sand beneath his feet is completely crushed until he is standing in a small crater, and his bangs fly wildly around his face as white flares around him.
There is the sound of something shattering and in the next heartbeat, the light dancing before us vanishes. The four immediately stop offense and retreat to defense, but Nagi forces his way forwards and after a few moments of straining, cuts right through their telekinetic shields. Their bodies lift from the air as the blast hits them, carrying them backwards to crash against a ten foot hill/cliff thing that’s about twenty feet from where we stand. Nagi takes a shuddering breath beside me, moving his hand back over his mouth. I glance over at him and am surprised- and not pleased at all- to see an ashen edge to his skin. He lowers his hand and offers me a thin little smile.
“I have no clue what I should be able to do,” he tells me. “I have nothing to go off of, no training that taught me.”
“What you should be able to do and what you can do is different,” I tell him, grabbing his wrist and lifting his hand to where I can see it. Nagi studies his hand carelessly, not at all bothered by the gray tinge. “Even if your gift can do it your mind hasn’t been trained to put up with it. Don’t you dare overthrow this. It’ll kill you.”
Farfarello takes a step forward then. I catch the movement out of the corner of my eye and look towards him, then towards where he is staring. Aine has appeared at the top of the cliff, and she looks down at the sprawled bodies in silence. A wave of her hand and the battlefield is cleared. There is no slow burning…It is immediate evaporation of eight corpses in a sharp flare of fire. She drops her hand to her side, lifting her bright blue eyes to stare at us.
“What have you done?” she whispers. I can barely make out the words. “What have you _done_?” she cries again, and there’s anguish in her words. Farfarello pauses midstep, then thins his mouth to a hard line and moves forward again. “You have to know the consequences of such a thing.”
“They are risks we’re willing to take,” Crawford answers.
“Risks?” she echoes, and despair makes the word harsh. “There aren’t risks about this, it’s all certainties. What are you doing? Why are you throwing everything away like this?”
I brush my bangs out of my face, studying her for a few moments. “Freedom,” I answer easily.
That gets a sharp laugh from her. “Freedom…” she echoes, and she rubs her hands against her arms as if warding off a chill. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it!”
“We can find something,” Nagi assures her.
Her face twists, the perfect expression of pain, and she turns mournful eyes on the younger Irish assassin. “Farfarello…” He stops halfway between us and the cliff, staring up at her in silence. “This is madness.”
He slowly reaches up to his neck, long fingers finding the buckle to the collar around his throat. It clicks as he undoes it and he slides it free of his neck, studying it for a few moments before letting it drop carelessly to the ground. Sharp relief cuts through me to see my teammate’s throat bared at last. “Pick your side,” he tells Aine, and his voice is low. He lifts his hand towards her, extending his arm to her in a beckon for her to join him. Even with my warning, he is still desperately hoping that there is another way, that somehow she will see our side is right and it will be enough. He’s still clinging to that one final hope, and Aine burns it out when she gives a sharp, cutting gesture with her hand.
“We can’t pick such things!” she sends back, and Farfarello slowly lets his arm drop back to his side. It sinks in then, dark and unwelcome, and he accepts what I told him long ago. “This is…this is who I am. This…This is all I have to give.”
Farfarello is quiet for a long time, and then says, “It isn’t enough.”
Silence falls over the group. Aine lifts her hands to her face, a palm to each side, and just stares down at him. And finally she whispers, “Then I have to stop you here, before you get any further.”
“Mm…” Farfarello answers, and he takes a single step backwards. Aine steps off the cliff, landing in a crouch at the bottom, and rises to her feet. She takes slow steps towards him, coming to a stop just in front of him. Farfarello reaches up, his fingers touching her cheek. I cannot see his face from here but I can hear the sharp twists to his thoughts. And then he lowers his hand from her face to plant his palm against her chest. He gives her a push, sending her backwards a step, and takes his own second step back. “You can try,” he offers.
Aine considers this in silence, and finally reaches up to her sleeve. She has a small blade in her hand and she uses it to cut through the material at her shoulder, ripping it along the seam. One gigantic sleeve falls to the ground, and the second follows. A sleeveless Aine was always an Aine that was going to do some killing. She kicks them both away and turns back to face us, and the expression on her face is serene, her eyes guarded. I offer a quiet little sigh, recognizing the shift between Aine and Prometheus.
Regret…is a bitter taste in the mouth.
Fire explodes in the air between us, and Nagi’s gift reacts to keep it from searing us. He is going to have a bit harder time working against her gift; she is a seven, just one rank beneath him. Farfarello takes a step towards her, through the sparks that are still flying everywhere, and she swings at him with her small knife. She is going against him with pyrokinesis and a blade. He chooses no weapon. Blood streaks across his bicep and he reaches out, catching her shoulder. Fire wrenches its way down his forearm but he doesn’t feel the pain. Another explosion erupts in front of us, fire and telekinesis meeting midair. The wall of flames lingers, being fed even as Nagi forces it to nothingness, and the two Irish assassins are blocked from view.
A few moments later, the fire goes out, and we can see them again. Farfarello looks like the devil himself; fire is washing over him. He has his hands around Aine’s throat and is squeezing. I see Crawford’s vision again, playing out before me. She offers him a sad little smile as the first tears streak down her cheeks.
~I wanted…to see Ireland again…~ her voice whispers in my mind. I know they words are for Farfarello, but she can’t voice them aloud. I hesitate, then slide them over the bond. Her voice is so exquisitely sad, so completely heartbroken. ~I wanted…for us to go home…~
And with that, the fire abruptly vanishes from Farfarello, the fireball reappearing around Aine. It startles my teammate enough into taking a quick step back. He says her name and reaches towards her, but her body collapses under the flames and he misses.
In just a few moments, there is nothing but ash. Farfarello stands over the pile in silence. His suit is ruined, burned away, and I can see the burned skin underneath. He just stares down at the spot Aine was just in and I stare at him, turning this over in my mind.
In the end…Farfarello was enough. I was wrong. She could never have turned against the Council, not enough to fight against them with us, but she could not bear to keep fighting Farfarello. So she took the only option she saw available to her, and took herself out of the equation. Nagi is staring in a bit of horrified silence, trying to swallow what’s just happened. The smell of burned flesh is thick in the air. I feel my stomach give an uneasy lurch, and I finally lower my eyes from Farfarello.
/She was…all she had to give,/ I tell him. /And she wanted you to have it./
He doesn’t answer. I hear the tearing of material and glance his way to see him crouching beside the pile, gently gathering her ashes into a scrap from his suit. He ties it closed and rises again, turning to face us, his precious bundle in his hands. He doesn’t look at us. His eye is on the little white bag in his hand, all that is left of a girl that finally taught Farfarello how to hope and feel again.
She was…a remarkable sort of girl.
~I will take her home,~ he tells me softly, and gently tucks the bag in his one remaining pocket.
We’re not given but a moment more to reflect on what’s happened. There’s the soft scuff of shoes against stone and when we look up, the time has come. The Council is all that is left, and now they stand at the top of the cliff, spaced out to stare down at us. I take a deep breath, hold it, and let it out, lifting my eyes to study them. Silence stretches between us. It could have lasted a few seconds, it could have lasted a few years. Everything we’ve been working for has finally come to an end. This is the last thing we have between us and freedom. Not a lot…just three demons and the devil. I take another deep breath, then reach up and move my bangs out of my face, tilting my head back to turn a lazy smirk on them.
To glory, then. To death. To freedom.
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