Author's note: I do not claim to own any of the characters ^_^ they are a creation that is best kept by it's author. I hope he might read this one day and get inspired to write a sequel to Chrno Crusade.

If you have not read the manga, do so!!! It's good. ^_^ this fic is based roughly off the manga, interspercing some stuff inside of it, so if you're confused that's why.

Denizens of Darkness, Harbringers of Light A Chrno Crusade fanfic by Prologue: Fall Into Grace

One would have never known what the day had in store for the brightly sunlit building standing atop a lush green grass knoll, filled with the laughter of children's voices, and the clamor of a Saturday morning. It seemed untouched by the mundane cares of the world that forever changed around it, rushing about and forever in a hurry. This was a place where children could grow free, in the company of their own.

The Seventh Bell Orphanage was a new establishment, relatively. It had been erected at the turn of the century, to help those children who did not have the fortune of knowing a family. The grounds began as a single-story dwelling, and evolved year after year, until the three story building, complete with playground, garden, and wide expanse of fields perfect for playing on, evolved around it.

To Rosette Christopher, it had been all she ever knew. There had been flashes of faces in her distant past, a mother and father dead and buried in the depths of her unconscious like fleeting dreams you barely remember upon waking. But one thing was for certain, she did have family. If not in the other orphans and the staff at the home, at least in her brother Joshua.

"Hurry up!" Rosette turned about on her heel, skirts flying in the light breeze as she stood atop the grassy knoll overlooking the Seventh Bell. The light breeze whipped her sunshine blonde hair about her face  as it streamed out behind her, half pulled back out of practicality from the work she was fleeing. Blue eyes reflected the cloudless sky, with wide attention as her gaze locked on the sandy haired youth stumbling up the hill after her.

"Rosette…." The boy's face rose, and it was apparent the two were siblings, for the curve of their faces and the color of their eyes were the same. Joshua was several feet shorter than his sister, and a good deal frailer than her. She stood tall, firm, and self-assured, while he stooped, tired, and uncertain, glancing back over his shoulder, and adjusting an errant suspender that had slipped down over his thin shoulder, tangling with his shirt sleeve. "I'm not so sure we should be doing this… Minister Remington will wonder where we've gone to…"

"Let him wonder!" Rosette snorted with typical childish impatience. "It'll do him good. Maybe he'll give up coming here if he finds you're never around when he pays a visit."

Joshua sighed, a wan tired smile playing across his lips as he gazed at his fiery tempered sister. She was very protective of him, and normally he was grateful for her support. As far back as he could remember, he had always been the frail one of the two. While she was climbing trees and scraping knees, he was sitting beneath, watching her with wistful longing. He often wondered why it was that he became winded when she always had more to spare than he, but it never made him jealous of her. She always was there to help him along.

However, lately it seemed her ire had been inflamed more than the usual teasing and taunting of their fellow playmates. Within the past month, Joshua had been paid many visits by a man by the name of Remington, from the Magdalena Order in New York City. Though the rest of the orphanage had wondered why his attention had rested upon a frail boy, and a hyperactive troublesome girl, the two of them knew more intimately why his interest fell on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, Rosette had taken an instant disliking to the man, and whenever he showed up, she found some reason to tear Joshua away from the house, to escape his visit.

Today, it was apple picking.

"Come on, it's not that much farther." Rosette slowed her pace from their hurried dash, to give him time to acclimate and catch his breath.

"Are we really going to stay out all day?" Joshua's breath came short and quick, a slight wheezing in his chest even at that brief amount of energy expenditure. For some reason, it always took him a long time to regain his strength. Today was one of his better days. " We can't avoid them forever you know…"

"Bah, sure we can." Rosette twirled around in the long grasses, the blades of green brushing her ankles gently as she spun, her hair spreading out around her like a curtain as she danced with the air. "He's already a week late."

"Ah…. Yes, but this time he brought his folders…"

Rosette stopped, her skirts falling about her legs as she ceased her dance, her hair falling to her side as the wind gently stilled. "I know." Her voice was soft, and barely distinguishable.

Joshua sighed, and walked up to stand next to her. He understood her sorrow. Remington had more than once hinted that he was interested in adopting Joshua… but not Rosette, and of course this had devastated his sister, since she had cared for him since before they could recall. The thought of being separated was not a pleasant one, for either of them.

"Come on, let's just get as far away as we can…. Let's explore!" Rosette's smile bounced back onto her face quickly, as she was never one to carry a frown for long. Joshua returned the smile, and together they began to head down the path towards the woods.

One day, he would be a world-famous traveler…. Exploring new lands, and discovering treasures, that much he was certain of. The two of them made quite the excavation team. They had several favorite hang-out spots around the orphanage they had discovered, that no one else knew of. It was a thrilling concept, to have a secret that they shared and told no one, like a journal but even more special.

"Rosette…?" Joshua fell in step beside her, as they walked along, and scuffed his feet a bit as they made their way into the trees. "What do you think New York is like?" They had lived Michigan all of their memories, and never visited a large city, that in itself was a huge adventure that intrigued Joshua.

Rosette had other ideas. "It seems awfully crowded and cold to me." She winkled her nose with disgust. "All those tall stone buildings, and cars rushing about. There aren't any real trees for miles!" She spread her hands and spun again grinning widely. "I wonder how the people there get by."

"Maybe they have better things to do?" Joshua suggested, trying his best to keep her open-minded to the idea at least. "What about the movies, and the new motion picture theaters?" His eyes lit up. They had never seen one of the new Hollywood productions, but he heard it was amazing, what they did with a flat piece of canvas to make it move.

"I guess…" Rosette shrugged, not really wanting to disagree since the concept of films interested her too, but not wanting to give her brother the upper hand. "Still, I don't think there's much to explore there."

"I don't know… there's probably different things." Joshua gazed up at the sky and watched as a few birds soared up into the air on furled wings, free and magnificent.

"Like what?" Teased Rosette as she gently gave him a shove.

Joshua laughed and shoved her back, and received a harder shove, which sent his balance reeling. With a startled gasp, he fell onto his back, and proceeded to slide down the slick grass hill, tumbling head over heel. Rosette dove after him, with some flair, and they both ended up at the bottom, laughing, grass-stained on their arms and knees, and in a tangled heap.

It was fun to be children.

As they lay there laughing, Rosette sat up, and her gaze fell about them. They had not been in this particular valley, since it was a rather steep hill to climb out of. The forest rose sharply on all sides of them, but left the bottom of the valley open, their branches knitting above to form a canopy of green that filtered the sunlight through.

Suddenly, Rosette felt something beneath them begin to give, and with a small scream of brief terror, she felt the ground below her give, and together the two fell through the soft moss canopy, and landed with a hard crash into the empty dark hole beneath.

The first thing that struck her was the scent of must and mold. Not unpleasant, but of some place that had been sealed for a long time. They were sitting in about three inches of water that was icy cold, and the sun filtering down through the broken bricks in the roof above them.

Rosette winced, and glanced at her knee which had a decent gash in it, as Joshua sat up, rubbing his head. "Ow…Ah Rosette!" He instantly reached a hand forward, and the soft blue light of healing energy began to expend from his palm face down. Rosette felt the pain fade as the wound healed astonishingly beneath his hand, and she smiled rather sadly as Joshua backed down, and instantly grabbed his chest. "Thanks…are you all right?"

"Yeah…" Joshua lowered his eyes and sighed. "I'm fine. It's just…" He stopped. They had been over this many times. He was upset and frustrated that he could heal others, but his own frail nature could never be overcome…he just wasn't strong enough.

"Hey! No frowns!" Rosette jumped up and spread her hands. "Come on, let's look around and see what we found! This is really cool!"

Joshua stood up and nodded, glancing around with bright blue eyes. "I remember…someone said there was an old grave somewhere in this forest. This must be it."

"A…a grave?" Rosette's voice quivered a bit. She hated the idea of death. "Well…wherever we are, we have to find a way out. Come on!"

She grabbed onto his hand, and tugged, and together they made their way down the dark corridor, keeping close as the darkness filtered in around them.

However, they didn't have far to go.

It had that musty stale scent of a place that had seen much mold, and little fresh air. It wasn't filled with any bad air, that they could tell, but it smelled like an old cellar that had been shut for several winters…ok more than several.

They stood at the entrance to a grand hall that appeared to have been carved beneath the tree roots, and supported with stonework. It went for a short distance before ending at another door that was lit by the flooding sunlight from the entrance they had just opened. It seemed safe enough, no monsters loomed out of the inky blackness, no mummy curses threatened to endanger them.

"Wow…this must be hundreds of years old." Rosette finally offered, realizing that she couldn't keep her brother away from the mysterious calling in his blood. "I wonder what's inside here?"

"It looks like a tomb to me." Joshua said softly, as they paused before the second door, which was engraved with the holy relic of a cross. "I remember Clara saying that someone was buried deep in the woods out here…"

Rosette nodded in agreement, having heard something similar. "That's right… St. Augustine's church stood about five miles from the orphanage… it burnt down like fifty years ago or something.

"But this would have remained untouched." Joshua added, as they stared at the door curiously. "Stone does not burn well." He reached out a hand, and this time Rosette did not attempt to stop him, as the door slowly slid open before them.

Darkness…silence…why am I aware of this suddenly? Why…? How long has it been…? The sun, why is it bright in here? There are people here…why?

The inky darkness seemed to remain still as the children peered in, nothing moved. But yet, as they slowly took a step inside, they both felt a presence, something powerful and moving.

Suddenly, light flared all around them, as runes on the wall began to light up in succession the moment Joshua put his foot on the top step of the doorway leading down into the small room. They shielded their eyes as the room lit up, and as they stood adjusting to the sudden brightness, they saw what treasure the door had hidden.

A single stone casket was set into the floor, adorned with elaborate carvings and words, dusty with inches of dust from years of isolation in the silence of the resting place that they now stood in, trespassing. They both could tell at a glance, this person had been one of great importance to the church, for them to have been given such an elaborate burial. And the mystical energy that had granted them entrance also weighed on their minds as they stood, staring in wonder about them.

So entranced by the scene were they, that they failed to hear the voice at first. It came raspy, almost like the grating of a tree branch against the side of a house, soft and almost ignorable. But it grew with each word, and sent shivers down their backs as they realized suddenly they were not alone.

"Who…is there? Who has awakened me….?"

Joshua whirled about, alarmed, looking for the source of the voice with wide eyes, as Rosette peered down, and spotted him.

They had almost overlooked him entirely, for he blended in perfectly between the shadows next to the casket, and the stone covered in dust. Sitting there curled up in a forlorn position, was a boy. His hair was dark, but that could barely be seen for the dust covered him thickly like a blanket, giving him the appearance of a moving statue. Only his eyes held color, as the faint light glittered off them in faint hues of ruby.

Joshua gulped, and instinctively reached out for Rosettes arm, as reassurance. Rosette, however, was more curious than he. "Who are you!?" She stared at the boy with wide eyes filled with curiosity. "And what are you doing in here?"

The boy regarded them silently for a moment, the dust continuing to cling to his clothing and hair like a fine layer of silt. They could not make out any details in what he wore, or how old he was due to the dust. But he appeared to be quite small, and ragged.

Finally, he spoke once more, in that soft hoarse voice they had heard before, though it continued to grow in strength the more he spoke. "I am Chrno. I am what you would term a demon. Who are you?"

His eyes seemed very serious, though his words fell on them with surprise. It wasn't like someone to go about claiming to be a demon… but then they were almost certain that no one had been in this tomb before them, for the dust remained undisturbed all around.

Rosette scratched her head a bit, a strange feeling of excitement and calm washing over her, and glanced over at Joshua, who was staring at the boy with wide eager eyes. Leave it to him to become interested in the occult. Rosette turned back to the boy, and smiled brightly. "I'm Rosette, and this is my brother Joshua."

Chrno did not seem to reflect that he understood where that was, but he slowly began to straighten up, rising to his feet. As he did so, the fine layer of dust began to filter off of him, and they could see a clearer glimpse of his features. He appeared to be younger than their ages of ten and eleven. His hair was long and scraggly, falling over his shoulders and down his back, dark in color between the dust mixed in with it. He wore a tattered cloak over his thin shoulders that seemed to be the same color as the stone around them, even without the dust. Beneath it he wore a black pair of slacks and a shirt, wrapped with ties, and small boots covered his feet. The only odd thing about him that they could immediately see, was the fact his ears rose slightly to small points, and a strange gold item hang dangling from his neck on a thick chain.

As soon as he rose to his feet, his eyes turned to watch them, cold and vacant. "This is a sacred grave. How did you break the seal?"

"Seal…?" Rosette glanced quickly at Joshua, who held a hand up and stared at it, then lifted his eyes to watch Chrno again.

A glimpse of anger seemed to wash over Chrno's features briefly, and he growled in a more emotional voice. "Leave this place. It is a grave—" he wavered and began to collapse, falling to one knee with a gasp. The two of them instantly were scrambling down the steps to his side, worried.

"Are you all right?" Rosette peered down at him with worry, and Joshua held his hands up. "What's the matter?"

"I seem to… lack strength." Chrno murmured softly, seeming pained over something, his eyes shifting to the side. "I have been asleep for decades and am lacking spiritual energy."

Joshua blinked, and had an odd look on his face, but said nothing.

Rosette raised an eyebrow with a quirk of an expression on her face, and began to rummage through her pockets, until she pulled out a handful of rather sticky candies that had obviously been sat on once too many times in the course of the day. "Here, maybe this will help!"

Chrno gazed up at her with faint surprise etched onto his face, the first real emotion they had seen him display, other than a glimpse of anger. He blinked, and then at her encouraging smile, he returned it faintly, and accepted the candies with good grace. "T…thanks.."

The two spent some time looking about the tomb walls, as their strange fellow sat adjusting himself. Rosette was curious, and a bit worried. How did a boy such as him become locked in a tomb? Was he really a demon? She glanced over at her brother, and smiled seeing the eager look on his face as he snuck peeks at the dark-haired Chrno when he thought she wasn't looking. Joshua believed he was a demon, quick enough. But Rosette had always thought of demons as being scary and evil things.

"Are you feeling better?" Joshua asked as Chrno stood up again, slowly brushing some dust off of his tattered clothing.

The strange boy eyed them, still faint and almost as if he was so tired that he lacked the energy to be even the smallest bit happy. "Yes. Thank you."

Rosette joined the boys and rocked back on her heels, peering at Chrno. "You don't really LOOK like a demon."

Chrno's smile twitched a small bit at her innocence, but he said nothing, as Joshua quickly began to ask torrents of questions. "What were you doing down here?"

Chrno's eyes remained a haunted veil of sadness, as he glanced over at the single tomb of the one whom he had been sitting next to, and remained silent.

"How long have you been down here?" Rosette asked, sneezing a bit at the dust that continued to be kicked up by their movements.

Chrno hesitated, and shook his head slowly. "Several decades…time passes distantly while I slept."

"Well it's gotta be a long time then." Rosette said saucily with a grin. "It looks worse down here than the basement in the house." That earned her a smile from their silent companion.

Rosette sneezed again, and rubbed her nose. "Hey, can we go back outside? All this dust is making my eyes water…" Joshua nodded quick enough, his eyes still locked on Chrno with wide interest. Chrno seemed to consider that option, then he nodded once, with a wistful look. No doubt he longed to see the sun again, after so long.

Rosette jumped up and dashed up the stairs, and glanced back. "Come on!"

Joshua grinned, and offered a hand to Chrno. "Here."

The demon boy watched him for a moment, then finally accepted the hand, and drew himself up with some effort, and trailed after the young boy as he dashed after his sister. Chrno followed somewhat slower, his steps almost of a reverent nature, as he glanced back at the casket in the center of the dark room, then turned and followed them.

They passed by the broken ceiling, and soon came to the real entrance to the gravesite, and with some puffing and shoving, Rosette threw the doors open.

They slowly made their way out of the damp crypt, until the sun hit their faces with it's warm light once more at the bottom of the copse. Chrno instantly flinched at the bright light, raising a hand to block the intense rays of the sun from his eyes, before finally venturing a look out at the bright green forest around them.

The dust had mostly drifted off of Chrno by this time, and the siblings now could see a clearer glimpse of their companion. His dark purple hair was long and tangled into the cloak he wore which was moth-ridden and ragged. He was small, and darker skinned than they, and some dirt was still smudged on his face.

Chrno seemed to be in a daze, as he gazed around him with a nostalgic look on his face. How long had it been, he wondered as he glanced about, watching the calm breeze drift the green of the trees from side to side. The tomb was completely overgrown, and the church that had once graced the premise was long gone…He remembered the day he had stepped inside, and the scene was quite different. Indeed, the copse that they stood in had once been the lower level of the basement and catacombs, the least of which had been where he had been. Now, all that remained, were simple memories, and the two smiles of these children, who had accepted him without even flinching. Indeed, the young boy had the ring of power about him that Chrno found very familiar, and rather emotionally painful.

Now, as he stood before the small lake that they had ended up on the shore of after winding their way through the small copse, he was struck by how much he had missed this. True, he still felt out of place, and melancholy, but the smell of the breeze, the sound of the birds, the feel of the sun… all of it warmed his heart more than he had anticipated. He had thought that he would remain there forever…but now to slip out he realized he missed life.

The two began to cheerfully talk to their new friend, and learned a little more about they're mysterious friend. He wouldn't divulge details, but they didn't really press to ask either. They talked about more interesting things, like what their dreams were, what kinds of things existed in the world, adventures they would have.

Chrno in turn shared wonderful information. He knew much about the flow of the world, and how things worked, and the two kids were fascinated by that. He told them stories of great mystery and interest, and riveted their attention, as he calmly sat cross-legged before the lake, eyes closed, and a peaceful look on his face.

By the end of the day, the sun was low, and they were tired, though laughing and having enjoyed a wonderful day. They didn't wish to leave their new companion, but they had to go back before they were missed. Rosette promised they would come out and visit him every day, and they parted with a wave. "Don't go anywhere, k?"

Chrno raised a hand in farewell, and watched as the two ran off heading back south into the forest. His gaze slid back to the water, and he felt a question tear about his heart. What should he do now…? He was awake, but hardly in touch with the present world. From what he had learned of their talk, a good deal of time had passed, and judging from the decay of the tomb, and Joshua's comment about the church being burnt down years ago, he realized it must be half a century.

That long… and the wound was still painfully fresh.

He closed his eyes, and sighed, letting his thoughts wander back to the past…

And so it went, for several days. They snuck out and met with Chrno during the day, bringing him food, and some supplies. By the end of the week, Rosette had managed to get his hair clean, as well as his clothes, and braid it back behind him to keep it tidy. He had gained some more color in his cheek in talking with the two, and listening to their laughter, though he never joined in more than a smile. They formed a bond of tight friendship, borne on the ideals and wistful wishes of children. Though Chrno was no child, he felt refreshed by their naive carefree nature.

The three grew as fast friends, sharing dreams, and hopes, more the two siblings than anything…. And they didn't think that anything could get worse… unfortunately that is never the way of things.

It was late in the day, and the sun was setting a blood red in the sky, casting an unearthly glow all about them…. To Rosette, things were going by in a blur as she ran, tears swelling in her eyes, streaming from her face as she dashed as quickly as she could to their secret place.

Why… why had Joshua decided?! She had been about to bring him breakfast that morning, and heard his coughing fits from down the hall. She had rushed in, and instantly grabbed the medicine and rushed to his side. But Joshua had just smiled sadly at her, with a glazed look in his eyes… She let him sleep, but worried. He was getting worse as time passed…. She could only do so much… but then….

She had come to check on him for dinner, and froze when she heard that man Remington's voice. Remington….was talking to Joshua again… and she heard everything that passed between them… Joshua was accepting his offer.

She couldn't think of anything straight, and had just grabbed a sweater and a lantern, and fled.

Sure enough Chrno was waiting there, and turned in alarm as she came running. "Rosette? What's wrong?" He asked jumping up as quickly as he could.

She plunged into his arms, crying hard. "They're going to take him…..Joshua….I don't want him to go…." Her mind was focused on one thing…. Stopping them from taking her brother from her.

Chrno's eyes took on a sad expression. "I'm sorry…"

"You have to do something!" She gasped, raising her eyes to plead into his. "Help me convince them!"

"Rosette…I…" He started to say, then froze as a wash of awareness snapped his senses into full gear. With a startled hiss of breath, his head jerked up, and his pupils dilated the instant he saw it…

"Yo…Chrno….It's been a while……."

"I…Ion…" Chrno growled, and Rosette took a few steps back, her eyes wide at his sudden change of posture, and then lifted to meet the large eagle sitting on the tree above their heads.

"Chrno…that bird…talks…?" She whispered, not sure what to make of it.

"It's not an ordinary bird…" Chrno growled. "Ion…what do you want!?"

The bird's eyes remained fixed on them, and laughter welled out from the echoing voice that was being transmitted through the aviary form. "To be honest, I was not seeking you out quite yet. I had planned to pay you a visit, but these children did the task of waking you for me. An excellent job, young lady."

Rosette bit her lip and looked uncertainly at the bristling Chrno. "Who is he…?"

"A demon." Chrno growled. "Like myself."

"True." Ion's voice had a ring of amusement. "But beside the point. While I must admit, it's quite nostalgic to see you up and about, and still the same, I must change the topic to the business at hand."

"Business?' Chrno's eyes narrowed.

"Young lady…" Rosette stiffened, as Ions' voice directed towards her. "You have no idea the headache you've awoken. If I were you, I might walk away and leave him back where you found him." Chrno's jaw clenched, as Ion laughed again. "Maa, maa, the same temper as before…I must say you are predictable, Chrno. Anyway, if you have had enough rest…" The birds eyes glowed briefly. "…I could use you back with me."

Chrno stiffened, his eyes abruptly going wide, as a million painful images shot through his mind instantly. "W..what!?"

"My plan is under way, and I need all the fighters that I can find." Ion's voice drawled casually, in a friendly manner. "I'm willing to forget the past between us, and give you your horns back if you return."

"Horns…?" Rosette glanced confused at Chrno, her mind pretty much clenched up from an overdose of information.

"That's right, young lady." Ion chuckled. "The horns of demons are their strength. It allows them to channel astral energy into their bodies, and expend it by using their powers. Unlike humans, demons depend on astral to live. Without astral, a demon is weak, powerless, and unable to use their powers…" His tone sharpened. "…and I took Chrno's horns from him fifty years ago. But, they can be returned if you re-join me, Chrno."

Chrno's jaw clenched more, and his eyes lowered, his bangs shadowing his face as he fought with many emotions, trying to gain a grip on them all before speaking. Finally, after a long moment of pause, he raised his head, his eyes intense, and serious. "No."

"Ah? No?" Ion didn't sound surprised.

"If I re-join you, then everything I've fought for is lost. I found something special here, and I refuse to give that up." His tone was final, cold, and shaking with emotion.

"I thought you would say that." Ion's voice turned amused again. "Which is why I've found them another home."

Chrno stiffened, his head jerking up with such force, that Rosette heard his head smack into the back of the double collar he wore. "What!!?"

"Young lady…" Rosette's eyes widened as Ion's voice directed at her. "Your brother is quite a person…very strong…he has great potential."

"You wouldn't!!"

Rosette's eyes began to tear up. "W…what? What have you done to Joshua!" She gasped out, staggering a few steps forward, fear clenching at her heart like an iron vise. Her mind began to fog up. What was going on….?

She felt a violent wrench at her wrist, and glanced over, as Chrno's eyes met hers, intense and narrow. "Come on!" He turned and began to drag her after him, to her surprise.

Everything warped at once, and Rosette found herself in the midst of a flurry of light and wind, as suddenly she felt her legs lifted up by an arm, and her body held tight against something warm and firm, as the world spun around her. She screamed briefly, and closed her eyes, confused as to what was happening, until the light faded, and the wind became sharper against her face.

What she saw, startled her, and clutched at her heart like the excitement of Christmas Day, but she was so frightened and startled , that she couldn't let the thrill get a hold of her. However, nonetheless the vision was startling.

The world was spread out, lit by the moon beneath her, and speeding by at a rapid pace at least several hundred feet below. The countryside looked calm and peaceful beneath her, silver and blue in the moonlight, as everyone slept in the early evening hours. Then it struck her. She was flying through the air above the whole scene.

Her eyes slowly lifted, and widened as the face that hovered near her shoulder was serious, and unfamiliar, but yet she could feel something of recognition that clutched at her mind as she stared. His face was angular, but round with a youthless appearance, a strange pair of metal attachments running one on each cheek, and two above each eyebrow, connected to a strange clamp of some sort on the side of his head, where long tufted ears rose out from behind rippling dark purple hair….strange divots with gems adorned his forehead, and his eyes were deep red and slit, focused with grim intent. That was all she could see of him, aside from the outstretched wings, and rippling ripped cloak trailing out from behind him, as a vertebra tail trailed out behind his back between the two.

This passed through her mind in an instant, before Rosette's mind snapped into shock mode. "W…waah! We…we're flying!" Her eyes widened as the stranger's eyes glanced over at her. "W…what…? Chrno… is that really you?" She clutched his jacket, her eyes wide and staring up at him in wonder.

"This is my true form." He replied, his voice deeper and mellow toned, but tense in concern. "I was forced to take that small form to conserve use of astral energy…"

"B…but now…?" Rosette stuttered, a big question of how he was doing this if….

"We can talk about that later!" He interrupted her quickly, as their speed continued to increase. "Right now we have to get to Joshua!"

Rosette bit her lip, her mind dizzy with everything. "W..what's going to happen to him!?"

Chrno's eyes closed briefly, and she saw a look of pain cross his face. "If Ion gives him….then it will be bad."

Her heart quickened in fear, but she didn't ask why. It wasn't necessary, for she trusted him explicitly, despite the frightening visage he wore now. It was strangely exotic, but still foreign and different, which frightened her.

They sped like a beacon towards the Seventh Bell, and Rosette could see instantly, that there was something wrong. The children and staff were running out of the door, into the cold night air in their nightshirts and gowns, screaming.

Chrno dipped down and landed at a fast speed, his boots digging rivets in the earth as he touched down, and she instantly struggled free, and hit the ground running. "Joshua!"

She heard a muffled gasp from behind her, but didn't turn to see Chrno fall to one knee in exhaustion. Her only focus was on finding Joshua… As she ran forward, there was an explosion from the door, as she heard Chrno's scream of warning behind her. She barely missed stepping into the blast of power that unleashed from the doorway, obliterating part of the building, and yet freezing it in place mid-explosion. She shielded her eyes, and stared with wide eyes, as Joshua emerged from the doorway.

Her mind seized up, and she rushed at him. "Joshua!!" Her brother had blood flowing down his head, and she could see with some horror, that he had two protrusions from his heads…they could only be what Ion had called 'horns'. "Joshua!" She stopped in front of him, horrified by his expression. "Joshua, what…?"

"Hey, sis…" His voice was distant, and eerily echoing, which sent chills up her back. "Look…you won't have to be a doctor anymore…I've become strong. Look…I stopped the noise…I stopped everyone. It's all better now."

"W..what are you talking about!" She gasped, fear clutching her heart as she gazed into his glazed eyes. "Joshua you're scaring me!!! This isn't like you!!!"

His eyes cleared a moment, as he regarded her with surprise, then suddenly cried out in pain and clutched the sides of his head. "R..rosette! Run! I'll… I'll stop you too!!"

Power exploded in bright white light around him, blowing her back a couple steps as she brought her hands up in alarm to block her eyes from the blinding radiance, still trying to hold her position, desperate to talk her brother to reason. "J..Joshua!"

A rough jerk dragged her backwards, and she fell into firm arms, and was wrenched over one shoulder, as she glanced back in surprise seeing Chrno standing there, one hand extended, gritting his teeth and blocking the explosion of power that rushed around them, with a blue light that seemed to be threatened to become overrun by the power Joshua wielded. Then, he fell back with a gasp, and twisted his body around, scooping her into his arms, and shot forward as fast as he could fly.

It almost wasn't enough, as Rosette watched the trees around them, the grass, the birds, everything, began to turn that ashen gray speckled with strange scaled marks. Joshua was freezing everything… She struggled. "No, wait!"

"Stop!" Chrno bellowed in her ear, and she realized with some shock that he was covered in sweat, and his hand was bleeding even as it held her tightly to him as they flew trying to outrun the explosion. "There's nothing we can do to stop him right now! He's activated Time Barrier…it will freeze anything it touches…including us…"

"But…they're your horns!!" She gasped. "can't you…can't you do anything?"

He averted his eyes, and began to slow as the explosion fell behind them. He finally touched down on the ground, and stood there, still holding her, gasping for each breath, sweat rolling down his face. "I can't use astral…this much and I'm already exhausted…without astral or a contractor, I can't do anything….but.." His eyes hardened in anger and determination. "There must be something…!"

"Contractor…?" His eyes shot open, alarmed by her words. "What is a contractor? If you had one, could you help Joshua!?" Rosette clutched his jacket tightly in her fists, staring up at him with tear-laden blue eyes.

"A contractor…" He spoke softly, even as each breath wracked his body. "Is a title for a summoner who successfully summons a demon. They make a contract, allowing the demon to use the contractor as a source of astral, without relying on their horns…." His eyes closed, and opened again looking down at her with an intense painful expression. "The power source is the contractor's soul. You understand, don't you? The demon slowly drains the life from the contractor, until they die."

Rosette felt her heart slowly grow cold at his words. It sounded like a gruesome situation…but… "But you could help Joshua?"

He bit his lip, and she could see blood well up beneath the sharp fangs. "You would be damning your life to one of pain! And it would probably only be half as long as everyone else." His eyes narrowed, and she could see bridges of tears threatening to spill. "Are you sure you want to live like that?"

She closed her eyes, and smiled, her memory drifting back to the times before this…happy times with the three of them… smiling faces of their friends, the laughter on a sunny day…Joshua's smiling face. And she knew what she had to do. Whether or not it was the right option, it was the best at the time…. And she told him exactly that.

His face looked sad and forlorn for a moment, but then he nodded once, and gently set her down, going into a crouch on one knee, looking up at her. "Very well then…we shall have a contract, Rosette Christopher." She swallowed a bit at his serious tone, but stood firm, watching him even as the wind blew her pigtails against her face. He reached up, and removed the clock from around his neck, and held it out to her. "this symbolizes the fortification of our contract. It keeps track of how much time you have left to live." He didn't look up at her as she slowly accepted it, and draped it around her neck. "Please use it wisely."

At that moment, she felt the strange sensation settle into her chest as she draped the ornate device around her neck. She knew, that there was no turning back now.