||Chapter 34||
"Hwang's Grudge"

Manx had arrived just after Kiki had found Elsie and cuffed her. The three of them had set off grimly, following Elsie's whimpered directions, until they reached the subway. Kiki left the American cuffed to the steering wheel inside her squad car, and the three women crossed the parking lot to find a way into the subway.
Consequently, the entrance they used was close to the one guarded by Aya's brother and his unsavory companion.
Kiki had been leading the way down the disused steps, gun out and upheld, when they heard it-- a soft, eerie chuckle emitting from the darkness at the bottom of the stairs.
Kiki immediately pushed Aya behind her, clicking the safety of her gun off. "Sounds like we've got company," she breathed, licking a bead of sweat from her upper lip.
"I know you're up there, bitch," a mocking voice called. "Why don't you come down and play?"
Aya felt a chill of fear go up her spine. "It's Hwang," she hissed, clutching a knife in one hand, her other fisted underneath the comforting weight of Ken's buknut. "The telekinetic."
Manx put a comforting if distracted hand on her shoulder, trying to peer down into the darkness. Her own small firearm was in her other hand. "If he uses TK, why hasn't he attacked yet?" she whispered.
Aya gulped. "I think he wants us to go down to him. He has a grudge against me."
"Let's not disappoint him," Manx said grimly. She pulled Aya back a little so that she was trailing the two older women as they slowly descended the steps.
A single light came on with sudden brilliance; Aya gave a small shriek of surprise, her nerves raw with fear.
Hwang was waiting for them at the bottom, grinning cruelly. He beckoned to them, his voice playful. "Come on, ladies, don't be shy."
Aya wasn't paying attention to him. She had spotted her brother. "Ran!" she cried, knowing it was hopeless.
The pyro gazed up at her coolly from where he stood behind Hwang, sword drawn and ready to draw blood.
Aya wriggled past Manx, shouting down to her brother in desperation. "Oniisan, don't you recognize me? Don't let them do this to you! They erased your memory! You don't have to--"
"Shut up," Hwang snarled, jerking his thumb to the side.
Aya screamed as she was slammed into the wall. She crumpled to the ground and rolled down the rest of the steps before she could get her balance.
"Aya!" Kiki lifted her gun hastily and fired. The bullet seemed to bounce off an invisible shield several feet in front of the Korean's face, and bounced off the concrete wall nearby with a ping. He sneered up at her, speaking to Ran without looking at him. "You can take care of these two lovelies. I have a little score to settle with the kid."
Ran didn't seem to hear him at first. He was staring at Aya, his face contorted in confused frustration.
"Ash!" Hwang snapped. He pointed towards Manx. "Recognize her?"
Ran's eyes slowly turned from Aya and focused on Manx. Anger cooled his gaze. "Manx," he said slowly. His voice could have frozen a lake. "Weiß." He pointed his sword at her, his eyes glittering with vengeful fury. "Shi-ne."


Right off the bat it was obvious Schuldich's idea of "dibs" wasn't going to work.
Farfarello realized he was at a tactical disadvantage the moment they descended into the dark, unused parts of the subway.
First, they knew he was coming.
Second, his army was thinned out a little because of the stairs; they could only move down the staircase four abreast, stretching them out in a line.
Park and the Purebloods were massed at the bottom, waiting for them. Behind them, Rosenkreuz looked on coldly. Yohji, Ran, and Nebel were nowhere to be seen. Malachi was also conspicuously absent.
The Purebloods surged forward as one. Weiß and Schwarz, in the front of Farfarello's army, would have most likely gone down right there as the first rush hit them, if Ken hadn't acted.
"Kill them!" he shouted, gutting one Vampire with his buknuts and kicking another away from him. The stumbling zombies moved foward at his order. "Schuldich--"
He didn't have time to explain what he wanted the telepath to do, but Schuldich managed to catch snatches of the idea, and obeyed without a word, gritting his teeth as he struck at the walking dead, delivering a simple, clear idea to each of their rotting minds. Ken wasn't sure what picture or concept the German had used, but it seemed to work; the zombies recognized the Purebloods as their main targets and shuffled into the fight with groping hands and gaping mouths.
The Purebloods shrank back instinctively, goggling in horror as the walking nightmares came at them. Then they pressed forward again, meeting the zombies head on, where the two forces proceeded to tear each other apart.
Farfarello's army hesitated, watching in sickened fascination.
The Irishman seemed to sense their sudden uneasiness. Shouldering a Pureblood aside, he seized another and lifted the writhing man over his head effortlessly. He heaved the Vampire into the crowd with a snarl that seemed to awaken the bloodlust in his people. The Turned flooded down the steps howling for blood. Weiß and the Adir'avar, caught up in the rush, went at the Purebloods with their weapons, struggling to get to the two men of Rosenkreuz hovering in the back.
It was instant chaos.
More than once Ken found himself lost in a sea of Vampires, lashing left and right before he could break through and catch a glimpse of an ally.
Farfarello, Nagi, and the Adir'avar seemed to be having the most success in their advance on Rosenkreuz. Farfarello's strength was staggering, and the Adir'avar were wreaking havoc with muscle and weapons. Nagi simply sent out his power in sporradic pulses, flinging foes left and right as he set his sights on the men who had controlled his life for years.
Gunshots echoed constantly as Crawford, Schuldich, and Raphael fired into the crowd when brute strength wasn't enough. Tatiana's silver-tipped cane whipped around, impaling Purebloods and causing them to burst into black flames. Omi was ducking and weaving among the melee, his darts zipping into the crowd, his hand occassionally clasping an enemy as he Possessed them, forcing them to turn on their own partners.
The Jackal hacked his way through slowly but steadily, cutting down the Purebloods grimly, his heavier sword slashing with less grace than Ran's katana, but just as much fatality. Schuldich had his glock in one hand and a bloody butterfly knife in the other. He was laughing insanely, ignoring the blood dripping down his cheek from a cut on his temple as he fought.
Ken clenched his teeth as he punched a Pureblood under the chin, feeling his silver-plated buknuts drive through flesh and bone. He swung backwards with his other hand, slashing another attacker across the abdomen as it tried to sneak up on him. In the back of his mind, he knew he couldn't keep it up for long; soon his arms were going to tire, and then he would be in trouble. But for the most part he concentrated on simply taking out as many as he could. A few of the zombies fighting nearby were a help, ripping apart any Pureblood that tried to get at their master's turned back.
The next sight he saw when he looked around for a glimpse of his teammates chilled him to the bone.
The Purebloods were much closer to Nagi. His blasts of power were more sporradic, and seemed to be weaker. Vampires didn't go flying across the dim platform anymore; they fell over or were shoved back several feet instead. He'd fallen behind, so that only Farfarello and the Adir'avar were gaining ground on Rosenkreuz.
Ken looked around quickly, and spotted Flint nearby. "Flint!" he shouted, waving frantically. "Flint, help Nagi!"
He saw the Vampire glance in his direction, then turn his back deliberately and break a Pureblood's jaw. Ken felt a rush of fury towards the other man. Flint was still prickly towards him. He reminded himself furiously to deck the hell out of the Turned later if he got the chance. As he booted a Pureblood away, he saw Omi struggling with a very tall Vampire. Ken quickly directed two of his zombies over to help, yelling hoarsely for the younger boy.
"Omi! It's Nagi!"
The younger boy's head snapped around at the sound of his lover's name, and he looked around quickly before spotting the other boy. His face paled a little when he saw the trouble the telekinetic was having. With renewed strength, he began to battle his way towards him.
A Vampire took advantage of Ken's momentary distraction and hit him in the stomach hard enough to double him over and drive most of the air from his lungs. Her strong fingers curled around the back of his neck and squeezed almost tight enough to break it. Ken swung his arm up and sideways frantically, driving his claws into the woman's groin. She shrieked in panicked fear before bursting into flames, and Ken forced himself to straighten up, coughing. Raphael's shotgun roared, and plaster from the ceiling sprinkled down. Ken's eyes flicked in that direction automatically as he wondered what that had been about...
Felix had appeared just before the half-blood had reached Rosenkreuz. He'd seized the muzzle of the shotgun and forced it upwards. In his Alchemist hands, he'd warped the long muzzle backwards. Raphael's reflexes were just quick enough for him to dart his head aside as the shot went right by his face. The bullets sprayed behind him, taking out a Pureblood and two Turned. Hikaru gave a scream of pain as one of the bullets grazed her thigh.
Ken took it all in at a glance. His attention had already shifted to something more interesting: Felix hadn't come alone.
Yohji was there, aiming his deadly wire at Farfarello.

Omi reached Nagi just in time to see what Yohji was about to do. "Yohji-kun, don't!" he cried desperately. He hurled one of his darts with a quick, desperate snap of his wrist.
Yohji stumbled back as the dart took him in the shoulder; his wire shot out from his watch and missed Farfarello by mere inches, looping around the bicep of a Pureblood. When Yohji jerked backwards in reflex to the blow to his shoulder, the wire snapped tight and the Vampire lost its arm with a screech.
Omi hesitated, torn. He knew he had to get to Yohji and Possess him, but he was frantic with worry for his lover. Nagi was pale-faced and sweating, his power weakening with each use. In the pit of his stomach, Omi knew it was another side effect of the drugs he'd taken for his broken arm. Nagi's telekinesis was the only weapon he had; he'd never had use for anything else.
In a moment Omi had made up his mind. They were near the edge of the battle. He drove one of his darts into the chest of a looming Pureblood, seized his faltering lover by the arm, and dragged him from the fight.
Nagi was protesting weakly, trying to pull away and get back to the chaos. Omi ignored him, hauling the younger boy towards one of the stone pillars pitted with bullet holes. He took Nagi around to the other side and forced him to sit down, crouching in front of him and catching his breath. "Stay here," he panted, clutching his lover's hands in his own. "Wait until you get your strength back. Stay here." He leaned in to silence the other boy's arguments with a hasty kiss before releasing him and rushing back into the fight.
As he shouldered his way between two Turned, he was nearly bowled over by Schuldich. He hesitated, watching in confusion as the German hurried off, his face darkened with a scowl. He was heading away from the fight, back the way they'd come. Omi was flabbergasted. Was Schuldich running away??
Leave him, Bombay, Crawford snapped over Schuldich's link. He has something to do.
Omi would have questioned the older man further, but within moments he was fighting for his life once more.


Aya ran.
Her rib was beginning to complain again, but she forced herself to keep going, intent on getting away. Part of her insisted she find space to fight; the other half begged her to go back to the stairs and run far far away.
She staggered to a halt on a lit platform and looked around quickly. There was a homeless man asleep on a bench nearby, snoring loudly, an empty bottle clutched in his dirty hands, a newspaper covering his torso as an improvised blanket. No one else was around, but Aya felt a mild surge of hope. This platform was obviously still used, if the bright lights were any indication. Surely a train would come along soon.
Of course, if the train even stopped, there was nothing saying that Hwang wouldn't slaughter the passengers just to get to her.
She whirled around as Hwang came jogging up, a little leer on his face. He slowed to a halt when he was several yards away, cracking his knuckles in anticipation. "I'm going to enjoy killing you, cunt," he murmured.
Aya tried to swallow, but her throat had gone dry. She held the bugnuk in front of her defensively, her knife in her other hand by her hip. "Come on," she shouted, ashamed at the fear in her voice. "You can't even fight a little girl without your stupid power?"
Hwang's face turned ugly with hate for a moment, then he suddenly grinned viciously and drew a knife from his belt. Aya's stomach knotted at the sight of it. She'd never seen such a big knife. It was a killer's weapon.
"All right, girly, we'll play it your way," Hwang sneered, advancing slowly. "First I'm gonna cut out your fuckin' tongue so I don't have to listen to you scream in my ear. Then your hands-- at the wrists." Aya couldn't move. She thought for one wild second that the other man was "cheating" and holding her in place with his Gift. Then she realized she was completely frozen with fear. Hwang continued his ominous advance, turning his blade to catch the light. "After that I'm gonna shove this knife so far up your twat it'll come out your stomach. Then I'll cut your fucking throat."
A silent scream was singing in Aya's head, a frantic litany running underneath. Help me, help me, oniisan, please please help me, don't let him do this, I can't beat him, he's going to kill me, please somebody help me, Farfarello, Schuldich, anybody
Aya took a trembling step back, then another. Her false bravado was in tatters around her. Terror swamped her senses and drowned her instincts as the Korean came towards her. She couldn't seem to take her eyes off of his knife. Her legs were shaking so badly she could hardly keep her feet. The bugnuk suddenly seemed very heavy, and her arm trembled with the effort to keep it up at chest level.
Keep him talking. Amid the frantic fear, that one thought broke through. Her survival instincts were beating at her terror frantically in an attempt to make themselves heard. Keep him talking, distract him, get him close enough for a hit. A fatal hit. Go for the face or the throat. Kill him before he kills you.
Then get back to Ran.
The thought of her brother seemed to abate the fear just a little, and she stopped retreating.
"Why do you work for them?" she asked abruptly.
Hwang hesitated, frowning at the unexpected question.
"Souma and Iragadachi," Aya clarified. Her voice sounded too quiet over the pounding of her heart. "A Telepath and an Eraser. Nebel's stronger than that, right? It's not like they can beat you guys in a fight. So why do you still work for them?"
Hwang snickered. "You really are daft. No one goes against Rosenkreuz unless they want to end up six feet under."
"Why?" Aya demanded. "There's only two of them now. Why are you so afraid of them, you coward?" She lifted her chin, forcing a note of scorn into her voice. "Or do you like being told what to do? Does that get you off, Hwang? Having someone tell you what to do all the time? Giving you orders like a dog?"
Hwang's face darkened, and Aya forced herself not to back away. He started towards her again, his grip tightening on his wicked-looking knife. "On second thought, maybe you can keep the tongue-- that way you can beg for me to kill you quickly as I carve you up."
"Why are you avoiding the question?" Aya taunted. Her shirt was sticking to her back with sweat, and she wanted nothing more than to turn and run. She had to get him off-balance, get him to do something stupid so she'd have a chance. She wracked her mind desperately, trying to think of something to say.
What would Schuldich say? He always seemed to know just what to say to piss someone off.
She adopted a relaxed pose and put on a scornful expression. "I'm shaking in my boots," she taunted. "I just might piss myself. Please. You're just pissed off because a little girl with no Gift managed to peg you once. Oh, I'm sorry-- twice. How are the wounds holding up, honey? Did Iragadachi put a band-aid on it for you?"
Hwang's eyes were lit with rage, his teeth showing in a silent snarl. "I'm going to gut you like a fucking fish, bitch. I'll put you in the ground right next to your poor little mommy and daddy."
Aya quelled the rising pain at the mention of her parents and snapped back with her final weapon. "At least I had a real mother. Yours was probably shaved like a Japanese whore."(1)
That did it. Hwang barrelled towards her with a roar of pure enraged hatred, slashing at her with his knife.
Aya pulled on every last self-defense trick Farfarello had taught her, thanking the fates that Farfarello was a knife person. She ducked the first few wild slashes of Hwang's blade and swung at him with her own knife. He jerked his face back with quick reflexes, but not quite quickly enough. The knife slashed his collarbone, and she was already swinging her other arm to tear out his throat with her bugnuk before he recovered.
He jerked his arm up hastily, deflecting the blow by knocking her arm aside, and kicked her solidly in the stomach. She staggered backwards with an "oof", barely managing to keep her balance. He came at her again, and she changed tactics, letting herself fall to the floor. His blade whistled overhead, missing her by mere inches. She rolled a couple feet away and sprang to her feet. Her back was now to the tracks-- nowhere left to run. Her fractured rib was screaming with pain, and her breathing was harsh as she faced the furious Korean once more. A bell overhead went off, startling them both. A low rumble in the ground confused her for a moment before she realized the train was coming.
Hwang snarled something in Hongul and rushed towards her, stabbing at her with his knife. Aya tried to dodge, but didn't manage to get out of the full path of the blade. She shrieked as the edge sliced her arm; the sudden pain made the bugnuk seem even heavier. Just lifting it hurt. But she forced herself to anyway, snatching her hand up just in time to guard against the next blow. The knife clanged as it bounced harmlessly off the metal backing of the glove, and she swung her other arm with a burst of frantic speed and strength. He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and tried to jerk aside.
She struck the startled assassin in the side and buried her knife up to the hilt.
She'd been aiming for between his ribs to get a shot at his internal organs, but his instinctive flinch had saved him. Before she could pull the knife back and try again, he howled and headbutted her.
Stars burst in her vision, and she felt as if her skull would explode with the sudden pain. She released the knife, leaving it buried in him, and staggered backwards. Something like a brutal wind knocked into her-- his Gift --and she flew onto her back. She felt empty air beneath her shoulders for a moment and felt a surge of pure terror. She slammed her bugnuk into the ground, and the screech of metal against stone hurt her ears. Then the claws caught in a crack, halting her fall towards the tracks. Still dazed, she lay on her back, her head hanging over the edge, staring upwards as she tried sluggishly to pull her senses back together.
The sign overhead was blinking its information, informing her that train 315 was arriving, next stop Shinjuku. Shinjuku. She hadn't been there in awhile. Ran used to take her there, before the accident and the coma. Now she went sometimes with Omi or her friends to do some shopping. Well, not anymore, her mind informed her calmly. Now she was going to die. A horn sounded, loud in the tunnel and echoing around the empty platform as the train roared out of the tunnel. That still, calm part of Aya's mind wondered which would kill her first: Hwang's knife or the train taking off her exposed head.
She lifted her head slowly, her stomach roiling and her vision swimming. Hwang was standing over her, breathing hard, his eyes glinting with triumph. He dragged her knife out of his side with a wince and tossed it aside. He switched his own knife to his other hand and lifted it over his head for the final blow.
Behind him she could see someone rushing towards them, someone familiar. Aya wondered idly what this man could possibly hope to do.
The mental shout broke through her dazed thoughts like a thunderbolt.
Drawing on the last of her reserves, Aya lurched upwards just enough to clear herself of the train's path, rolling onto her side and curling up into a little ball.
Hwang's look of startled surprise was the last he ever made.
Schuldich reached him at that moment and delivered a savage kick right in the small of his back just as the train came howling up.
It caught the Telekinetic on its broad front as it roared past, killing him instantly.
Aya squeezed her eyes shut and wrapped her arms tighter around her head, trembling with relief and revulsion. The train continued to flash by, the ground shaking, and then at last was gone.
An eerie silence fell all around the platform, broken only by Schuldich's ragged breaths and Aya's shuddering ones.
"Until the 315... stupid fucking American," Schuldich muttered roughly.
The fact that she was safe finally seeped in, and Aya carefully rolled over and pushed herself up on her hands. Her arms were trembling so badly with the aftershock of her terror that she almost lay back down again. Schuldich turned towards her quickly when she moved, and came over to crouch at her side. She stared up at his scowling face numbly as he proceeded to rant at her. She noted the fear in his eyes fade to quickly be replaced by irritation as he spoke.
"You stupid little shit," he snapped. "What are you doing here, huh? Didn't I tell you to stay back at the fucking flowershop? Do you want to die, you ditzy--"
Aya surged forward and collapsed against the startled German, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck. She buried her face against his chest and wailed with relief and the last shadows of her terror.
Schuldich simply crouched there, completely frozen in helpless shock as the girl clung to him and wept, her fingers knotted in his unruly hair. Finally he lifted his hand to touch her back awkwardly. "C'mon, leggo, runt," he muttered, sounding more embarrassed than annoyed. "You trying to cut off my air flow or something?"
Aya loosened her grip, but refused to let go. "Thank you," she whispered. "He was going to.. to..."
He must have caught the Korean's threats and promises in her thoughts, because his nervous touch on her back tightened as his fingers clenched unconsciously. "Yeah, well, so much for Hwang the Stupid. He's hamburger meat now," he said carelessly. "Leggo, will ya?"
Aya reluctantly released him and let the taller man pull her to her feet. Schuldich glanced around, spotting her bloody knife nearby. She felt his mind brush against hers, getting a quick idea of the battle. He gave a little snort that was almost like amusement, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye with an arched eyebrow. "Nice to see I'm such an inspiration," he drawled, referring to her insults.
"Corrupting Japan's youth, one girl at a time?" Aya quipped, still trembling just a little.
Schuldich leered at her. "That's right," he said firmly. He cupped her elbow in his hand, his eyes narrowing as he stared down at her, rooting through her mind. "The kitty bitch and that cop are here, huh?" He glanced back the way he'd come. "We could really use a pyro right now," he muttered, almost to himself. "The runt can take care of him."
He was walking quickly, pulling her with him, and she had to jog to keep up. "Omi? How are we going to get my brother close enough to Omi to Possess? I mean... he thinks we're his enemies. It's not like we can just walk up to him and ask 'Excuse me, mister brainwashed guy, but can you come talk to our friend for a minute? Without chopping off our heads?'"
"You've definitely been hanging around me too much," Schuldich observed at her sarcasm, though he was only half listening. He was casting out with his mind, seeking out the two women and Ran.
"I left them over by... the stairs," Aya gasped. Her body felt like one big bruise, and her head was still throbbing. Schuldich kept tugging on her when she slowed down, and the fast pace was really beginning to aggravate her injured rib. "Look, you go on ahead, I'll catch up," she pleaded. "You're going too fast..."
"Then walk faster," Schuldich snapped. Then he glanced at her, and seemed to realize just how badly she was hurt. He came to a halt, scowling down at her as if it was entirely her fault, then blew an impatient sigh. "I can't leave you here, you little twit. You're useless as donkey shit right now. Any idiot can come by and chop off that pretty little head of yours."
"Like you'd care," Aya started to snap irritably, then squeaked with surprise when Schuldich bent over and scooped her up with a little grunt. "Put me down!" she nearly shouted, mortified. "I'm not a child!"
"Shut up. You're bitching like one," Schuldich grumbled, continuing at a brisk walk with Aya cradled in his arms. "Damn, you need to lay off the twinkies, runt. You're heavier than you look."
"You-you jackass!" Aya sputtered, her face flaming. She tried to wriggle out of his grasp. "You--"
A bright light up ahead and the familiar roar of flames silenced the argument effectively.
"Oniisan," Aya gasped.
Schuldich said nothing, but picked up the pace. Aya clutched the open front of his coat, hoping fervently that they would be in time.


It was Jenell who found Nagi.
Omi saw her hauling the weakened teenager to his feet, her face lit with a wicked grin as she glanced in Omi's direction. She slammed the slender telekinetic up against the pillar hard, and his head cracked against the stone, dazing him. Letting him fall, the Spark seized his ankles and shuffled backwards, dragging him away.
Omi heard himself give a strangled scream of rage and fear, and fought his way towards the edge of the fight ferociously. A grapple with a particularly vicious Pureblood popped something deep in his shoulder, but he barely noticed it as he drove a dart into the side of its neck. It was only after he'd gotten free of the chaos and was racing in the direction the German had gone with his lover that he realized his shoulder had been dislocated.
He tried to ignore the pain and held the arm close to him as he ran, his heart pounding. From around a corner, he saw jagged licks of lightning crawl up the wall. Nagi's scream of agony shattered the air, and Omi felt his heart break at the sound of it.
He rounded the corner into a narrow cul-de-sac, struggling to lift his crossbow one-handed.
"Here to join the party, Possesser?" Jenell taunted as he arrived. It was only then that Omi realized he had fallen for the girl's trap.
As a Possessor, he posed a threat to Rosenkreuz. He was the one who could turn Yohji and Ran against them. Hell, he could turn Nebel against them if he got the chance. They must have had him pegged as a target for awhile.
"Come on in, blondie," Jenell sneered. "Come die with your boytoy."

(1) This is a very very bad thing to say to a Korean. When the Japanese invaded Korea back in the day, they took some of the women back to Japan, made them shave their.. er, pubes, and made them prostitutes. It's an insult that will get you killed. I don't suggest you ever say it to a Korean. Not just cuz you'd be risking a serious beat-down, but because it's a really shitty thing to say.
Incidentally, I apologize if this insult offended anyone.

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