Chapter Eight: Contract
Authors new note: Good grief... you mean... she lives? Oh yes. Fear me. I'm retouching this fic, almost 4 years after I started it. Forgive me, real life problems, lack of inspiration and stuff got in the way, but... I'm back! I'm incorporating serious changes and re-writes from here onwards, so be prepared t be surprised!
Disclaimer: I own nothing! Moriyama-sensei does. Blame him!
White fog drifted around in riveting traces, swirling around her mind like ghostly images, teasing and taunting as they danced around her vision. She felt so sleepy… so distant… everything around her was far more surreal than she expected, and it took her some time to realize that she was actually awake.
Her eyes slid open, and her first impulse was to cringe. Bright light streamed in from a window above her, dancing across her face showing dust particles floating around in the air around her. She slowly blinked, not really understanding why she was laying in a bed, in a strange room…
It hit her like a sledgehammer.
She bolted upright, which was a horrible idea she realized, as the room sharply spun around her wildly. She clutched her head and fought the urge to heave, as the dizziness clutched at her like a smothering blanket. She squeezed her eyes shut, and gasped as the dizziness spun around her, then slowly faded as she stayed in the same position. She let out a slow breath of air, and clutched her chest tightly.
Was this what it was like to have your soul drained?
She slowly slid out of bed, and blinked down at her clothing. Someone had taken the time to change it, clean it, and given her another set. It was a little baggy in some places, namely the chest, and a bit short on the legs, but it generally fit, though there was a draft in the seat of her pants that made her wonder.
Where was she…. What had happened? The last thing she remembered was intense pain, and seeing Chrno's face in front of her, before she blacked out…
Her heart clenched, and she instinctively looked around, but she saw no sign of his presence… She squeezed her eyes closed, and clutched a hand to her chest, and was startled when she felt something cold at her chest. Her gaze dropped, and stopped upon the glittering gold timepiece, that lay closed on her chest. She blinked slowly then wrapped a hand around it tightly. So…it really had happened then.
A tight pressure in her chest caused tears to spring to her eyes again. What had she done? In order to make the contract, the previous one had been canceled by default… he was no longer protecting Magdalena. Instead…it was her who was protecting him…with her own life.
She angrily dashed the tears away. This wasn't like her! Damn it, she had more pride than this. There had to be a way to reverse the contract, given enough time. That had to be the answer.
With that thought, she threw the door open, and stalked out into the hall beyond, head held high.
She was totally unprepared for the scene that befell her.
Her knees felt weak, as she clutched to the railing, staring down, as the world spun dizzily beneath her, an occasional cloud drifting by lazily beneath them. Holy cow…they were floating on air…
The railing felt a bit rusty under her grasp as she leaned there, and she knew instinctively that this was Eden…flying in the sky once more.
She closed her eyes and let her forehead rest against the railing. Dear Lord…
"Hey." Came a quiet voice behind her, startling her into alertness, as she lifted her head. A small girl stood there, about her height actually, but…well greatly more proportioned. But that wasn't the key element that startled Rosette… no, it was the feline ears and tail that made her eyes bulge a little with surprise. But this didn't seem to bother the girl, as she adjusted a pair of wide round glasses on her nose and cocked her head at the young blond woman. "I had the feeling you'd be waking soon." She smiled cheerfully, and stuck her hands in her lab coat pockets.
Rosette dimly recognized her, she realized. Though, in the picture, she had been a fair bit younger, and her ears had been hidden beneath a wide brimmed hat. Still, considering how much time had passed, she didn't look as old as she should. With a sigh, Rosette turned her body to face the feline. "So…you guys got it running again then."
"Mmm…" The response was neutral, since the answer was plain before them. "You've been asleep for a few days, we had plenty of time."
The feline sighed, and took her glasses off, polishing them with a sleeve. "Rosette. You did the right thing you know. You couldn't have helped him any other way in this situation."
"I don't care for your empty apologies." She snapped rather harshly. "This whole thing could have been solved another way if you ask me."
"You don't understand the whole situation."
"Nor do I care to." She scowled. "All I care about is the welfare of….of Chrno." She caught herself before she said something she regretted, however the keen look the small figure gave her showed that she perhaps knew more than she let on. "Now, where is he?"
The feline ran a hand over one of her ears and gave her tail a quick swish. "Aion was right…." She sighed and turned around. "Come on, we might as well bring him breakfast while we're at it. You can grab a bite too."
She sighed a bit and fell in step beside her, feeling animosity towards the small feline leading her. It couldn't be helped, they were the enemy…despite how kind she may appear towards her. They were all working towards one goal…which went against everything that she…and Chrno…fought for. Yet…somehow she felt a bit bad for her… She cleared her throat a bit. "What's your name…?"
The feline looked up at her curiously. "Sheda."
"You've…known Chrno for a while, haven't you?"
"Yep. Since we were small."
"So… why are you working with Aion to do this?"
Sheda regarded her with a thoughtful look. "Rosette, you must understand, there's more going on here than you know… Chrno once was our friend, and worked with us… but since…that time…. He broke away." She smiled sadly. "I hate to see what's being done to him, but… it's for his own good in a way."
"I find that hard to believe." She snorted a bit.
"As I said, it's complicated." Sheda stopped and turned to face her, tail twitching. "Lord knows, if there were another option, I would have urged Aion to take it…however, he tends not to listen when his emotions are involved. That's one thing they have in common…perhaps the only thing, aside from their stubborn personalities."
Rosette frowned at her. "Why are you helping him? Do you really want to destroy the world!?"
Sheda sighed. "…it's more complicated than that…" She squinted up at her. "Let's not worry about talking about this right now…You're still tired from forging the contract, you'll feel better after you eat." And with that, their conversation was ended.
They entered the kitchen, and for the first time, Rosette came face to face with the three demons who had participated in the confrontation several days ago. At first, no one moved, as two pairs of eyes, and one head tilted her way, regarding her with neutral expressions, before each of them returned to what they were doing. The woman with a cold face, and just as cold beauty returned to reading a paper, the large man turned stirring something on the stove, and the other man seated at the table returned to sipping his coffee. They all pointedly ignored her.
Sheda walked over and gathered some food from the large man, setting it on a tray and then hurrying back, handing one to Rosette with a smile. "Come on. This way." She turned and slipped out, and with a final glance back over her shoulder at the three demons, Rosette followed.
It didn't take them long, as they wound through the empty corridors that appeared to be in bad need of cleaning, until they reached a dank hall, where a dark door gaped open into what appeared a small room. As they approached, Rosette could hear a familiar mellow voice talking, in a rather annoyed tone. The words weren't clear, but they didn't need to be. She had a feeling she knew what was being discussed.
She was surprised, however, when a tenor voice of someone who sounded younger than herself replied in a furious tone, something scathing back which only made Aion laugh coldly. With that, the tall demon strode out, and faced them, raising an eyebrow at Sheda, before fixing her with a very amused glance, and brushing by without a word. Rosette's blood boiled as she fought not to snap something heated at him, as his violet eyes studied her before he swept by, his long trailing white hair sweeping around the corner.
"Come on sweetie." Sheda said elbowing her. "Don't let him bother you. He's just a bit sore over this whole thing still."
"Right…like I'm not." She growled, but turned and stepped into the room with the feline demon without glancing back at his vanishing frame "Damn him…" Her voice trailed off slowly however, as she looked within the room.
She slowed to a stop, and nearly dropped her tray right then and there.
A boy about the age of ten was sitting on a small bunk against the wall, holding one knee to his chest, with a gloomy expression on his face. He was vaguely familiar, but Rosette couldn't quite place who he was at first. He wore a simple white shirt and rumpled pants that looked too big for him, someone's hand-me-downs. His violet hair was rather tousled and tangled, and his face scuffed with dirt, but the moment he lifted his head and his sorrowful ruby eyes met hers, she knew.
Her hands slowly lifted to her mouth, and the tray fell clattering to the ground at her feet. "Oh my god… Chrno…"
Sheda winced to the side. "Ah… I should have mentioned this before bringing you here…" She bent down and began to pick up the splattered dishes from the ground with a sigh and a mutter, as she complained about having to clean the floor now.
Rosette heard none of it. "Chrno…what have they done to you…?" Her mind was reeling, as she stared at him, not quite willing to fully accept that this was the same person. But somehow, the sad expression in his eyes was enough to convince her, though the whole situation seemed beyond her grasp.
He favored her with a tight, forced smile, and slid to his feet, his head only coming to her shoulder, but his eyes touching her to her very soul. "Rosette…" His voice was not quite as deep as she was used to, but she still heard the same tone within it that she would recognize no matter what he looked like. "They didn't…" But his voice was cut off as she launched her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder as she began to sob, each gasp wracking her body as the whole situation overwhelmed her. A pained look crossed his face, but he slowly wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and drew her close, letting her expel the emotions built up inside.
Sheda left them to themselves, stepping outside and closing the door slightly behind her. It took a little time for her sobs to ease, and in truth she had no idea what about the situation had prompted her to just burst like this…but as she finally felt the sobs cease to shake her shoulders, she felt a little better within. She slowly pulled back, and wiped her eyes, realizing that they were now sitting on the bunk, and his hands were clasping hers tightly, in a re-assuring way. She lifted her eyes up to meet his, and he favored her with a faint smile, that attempted to cheer her up.
"Rosette…It's not entirely a bad thing." He spoke softly, his crimson eyes searching hers as a slight curious frown played up on his brow. "It could have been worse."
"But…" She felt a choke rising up in her throat again, and fought it down with a calm breath. "Look at you…"
"It's just a side-effect of the seal." He said reaching forward and pulling the clock dangling about her neck forward. "When the clock is sealed, it means I can't access astral… Which also means that this way, I don't pull more than necessary from your soul. I could take my older form, but that would require more power." He put his hand over the clock and pressed it to her chest with a gentle hand, peering up intently into her eyes. "Rosette…what you did…"
"I'm sorry." She looked away, interrupting him. "I…didn't want you to die. It wasn't fair…I know that I just ruined everything you had with her but…"
"Rosette!" His voice was firm, and startled her a bit, but brought her babbling to a quick halt, as he pressed a hand to her cheek, drawing her chin down to lock her eyes upon his. "Stop." His eyes softened, and just that simple gestured caused her to slump in defeat. "Rosette, listen to me." He urged quietly. "You saved my life….by sacrificing your own. For that…there's nothing more precious than that, and there's no way I can repay you." His eyes softened more. "It's okay that the existing contract was broken… She's still alive…and in truth, I shouldn't have been keeping her alive that way for this long to begin with…" She saw heavy regret cloud his vision, as his eyes dropped. "Thank you…."
Rosette watched him with a sudden sad understanding. "Chrno…"
He quickly looked up, and she thought for a moment she saw brief moisture glistening in his eyes, which vanished as he squeezed her hand lightly and slid to his feet. "Things could be worse. You're okay, I'm okay. That's all that's important."
She pursed her lips a bit, and sighed, but squared her shoulders. He was right…it could have been worse. They both could have been killed. This way, at least they both lived, though the situation was less than ideal.
Sheda stuck her head back in and shoved a new breakfast tray into Rosette's hands. "Eat. You too, Chrno." She winked at him cheerfully, though Rosette could still see a haunted reserved look in the feline's eyes. Obviously, her loyalties were torn. She sighed, but began to eat, realizing as she did so that she was indeed quite hungry. To the side of her, Chrno also ate in silence, until they had finished, and her hands returned to being clasped in her lap.
"So now what do we do." She stated rather bluntly, turning her head towards him. "Are we prisoners here then?"
"No." Chrno said quietly. "Aion's not going to lock us up…we're free to leave if we choose."
She blinked a bit. Well that was rather odd. "What's he playing at? He goes and does all this….then says 'oh go ahead and leave'? I don't get it."
Chrno smiled faintly up at her, standing and sticking his small hands into his pockets. "Well, he achieved what he needed to do…retrieve Eden, and neutralize me."
She cringed a bit at that and bit her lip. "Oh…right…Sorry." She apologized faintly, rubbing her head with her palm in irritation. "I guess there's no reason for him to want us then…"
"No, not really." Chrno sighed.
"Well… I'm not leaving without Joshua." She stated firmly, standing up and giving him a piercing look. "Once we find him, then we can go."
"He's not here."
She blinked and stared down at him, pausing in the doorway as she headed out. "What?"
He glanced up her way, shaking his head in negation. "He's not here. I already asked. Aion has no need to lie of course…since there's no way we can find him anyway." He sighed. "Joshua is with a couple more apostles, being hid somewhere else in the country."
"Oh." Her shoulders slumped a bit. So it wasn't going to be that easy, then. "Well then." She straightened right back up, fierce determination filling her like a burning flame. "We'll just have to go hunt for him ourselves then."
He looked a bit surprised at first, but then smiled and nodded his head with an encouraging smile. "Right."
--- ---- ---
Ewan Remington paced back and forth in front of the messy desks within the office, in a frenzy. Where are they!? Why now!?
"Ewan, please calm down."
"I can't!" He exploded, running a hand through his hair. "This is the worst possible turn of events! I'm not prepared for this!"
"Ewan! You need to calm down. We already offered our assistance to you, we can handle it!"
He threw himself in the rickety plush chair, and let his head bang back against the wall. "Our top two exorcists are missing… and there's a big crime ring that just was uncovered. How much worse could it get?"
The door was thrown open, which only succeeded in shaking more piles of paperwork over onto the floor, and caused both Sister Kate and Remington to lift their eyes, blinking, as Rosette swept into the room, with a wide grin. "Didja miss us?"
"R….Rosette!" The shock on their faces gave way to sudden relief. "Where have you been!?" Remington jumped up. "You two were just… gone! There's a crisis on our hands, and you went gallivanting out to God knows where…."
"Hey, ease up pal." She snapped, shoving him back. "We've had a rough couple of days, and I'm exhausted." Indeed, she was amazed she was managing to stay standing, considering how lightheaded she felt.
He sighed a bit and put a hand to his head. "Well, as long as you two are all right….where's Chrno?"
"He's gone to change into something more… appropriate." She sighed a bit. "Um. There's something you guys should know…"
"Whatever it is, it can wait." Remington pulled a thick folder out. "We have to get cracking on this. As soon as Chrno gets back we should go set up a sting operation and…" He trailed off slowly, and came to a rapid halt in mid-stride, his gaze locked on a single small figure who had stepped into the office with a stoic expression.
Sister Kate turned around and blinked. "Hm…? Who's…?"
Rosette sighed a bit and rubbed the back of her head, shaking her head as she exchanged a look with a horrified Remington.
"Our apologies for taking so long." Chrno said quietly, tugging on the shirt around his neck as he fixed the loose tie there. "Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances arose."
"Oh god…" Remington slowly sunk down into his seat, his face deathly white. "Please tell me you're like this for a reason other than what I fear."
Chrno sighed slightly, and stuck his hands in the red coat he'd adorned. "I'm afraid not, Ewan." He shook his head and favored the assistant detective with a sad smile. "We're in for a change of era."
The man's face sunk into his palms with a groan.
"Hey, it's not that bad." Rosette growled, a bit irritated. "You guys are SO melodramatic. Come on, so he's lost a couple feet in height. No big deal. We still got our weapons."
Remington lifted his head and stared at her, his blue eyes rather haunted. "Rosette… you don't know…"
"Ahem." Chrno cut him off with a sharp look. "That's enough. There's nothing we can do now about it. Let's just move on and figure out our options."
Sister Kate was staring at him oddly. "Chrno…? It's truly you? Why though….?"
Chrno averted his eyes a bit, as Remington sighed and pushed back in his chair. "Because we knew this day might come one day…it doesn't mean we're any more prepared for it."
"Prepared for it?" Sister Kate seemed to be having trouble understanding what was going on. "Prepared for what?"
"For the time when I might lose my horns." Chrno replied quietly, taking a seat nearby, and clasping his hands together. "Between Pursuers, Sinners and random rogue demons, I'm honestly surprised it never happened sooner." His eyes got very dark suddenly. "The problem is, what do we do now."
Remington glanced up, worry in his eyes. "Indeed…whom did you…" his eyes drifted over to Rosette, and his gaze softened. "Ah… I see….her."
"Yeah me, buster." She growled. "And none of that pity crap, I'm glad to help out, got it?"
A faint smile lit Remington's face in understanding, and he favored her with a nod. "Very well then."
"Will someone explain this to me!?" Sister Kate spread her hands in frustrationn.
The night swiftly overcame them, as the explanations wound down, leavening them with only their thoughts and considerations. Dinner was a somber affair, with burned green beans and undercooked steak, since Rosette hadn't quite mastered her culinary skills. However, no one seemed to mind, as their thoughts were far from their stomachs, and forks only poked at the food irritably, not consuming it. The silence nearly drove her mad, as Rosette glanced between the two men, er the guys, watching as they pointedly avoided looking up.Geeze, what the hell? It's not like the world's gonna end…
But somehow, she couldn't force herself to say anything brash to try and cheer them up. She understood that loosing horns was a serious thing to a demon…and had it not been for the little invention that now dangled around her neck, it would have spelled death for her boss.
But still…they were behaving far too gloomy for her taste.
So when the alarm suddenly sounded, startling all three of them into dropping their forks abruptly, and in Remington's case, snorting his drink out his nose, Rosette was glad to jump to her feet and grab the phone.
Within seconds she slammed it down and whirled around to the two detectives who were watching her expectantly. "It's time for some fun!" She grinned fiercely. "Seems some ol' friends of ours are shakin' things up downtown. You boys up to some fun?"
Remington put a hand to his head in exasperation, but Chrno's eyes brightened considerably and a smile played at his lips. That was enough incentive to shove Rosette into full on battle mode. "RIGHT! LET'S GO!"
The screech of the tires as they pealed out of the garage nearly caused several pedestrians to scream in alarm, as Rosette took them squealing around the corner, and down the cobblestone streets heading for their quarry, with a car loaded with guns and ammunition.
THIS was the life.
It didn't take long to find the center of the disturbance, namely since so many people were fleeing from it in the first place. They screeched to a halt, and nearly slammed into the stack of crates piled on the sidewalk, before pouring out. Rosette grinned, whirling around as her jacket flapped in the warm smoke-filled breeze. This would cheer her up… just blast a few of those nasty buggers into oblivion.
"Hurry up, Chrno!" She called back, whipping out a couple of Sacred guns. "Bring the ammo!"
The small demon sighed a bit. "Hey, since when did I become the baggage boy…"
"Since you became a liability to fighting." Remington shot back with a teasing grin, taking her side.
The two blonds laughed, and after short glances, they took off down the street, leaving the small violet haired boy to grumble as he strapped the ammunition case to his back, and jogged after them, panting a bit on shorter legs.
The scene was a virtual inferno engulfing a large downtown building structure. From the looks of it, it had been an abandoned where house, but the structure was so immolated, that the other buildings around it were in danger of being consumed. Several dark shapes were soaring about in the air, laughing as they tormented some of the few people left in the area, who were running in terror.
"Ah, I love the smell of demon ashes in the evening." Rosette grinned, as she cocked her gun, and aimed it directly into the sky at the nearest one, pulling the trigger the moment it swooped down close into range. With a howl, the demon's wing disintegrated as it plowed into the wall with a crash of mortar and brick.
"Let's try to cause minimal damage this time, shall we?" Remington suggested, tucking his collar in primly as he loaded his gun. "We're still paying for our share on the lobby repairs."
"Aww you're no fun."
"I'm simply being realistic. We have backup supplies, but if we continue to cause more damage than demolish demons, we'll be going under."
"Still, yer no fun." Rosette shot him a snort, before turning the corner and peering at the demons gathering in a tight circle. "What the hell are they doing here? There's no one around…"
"No idea." Remington mused. "Normally they don't co-operate on a goal unless it's for a reason. Is there any artifacts in this area they might be pursuing?" He glanced down at Chrno as the small demon stuck his head around the corner beneath the two.
"No….not that I know of. And I can't sense anything different." He replied with a slight puzzled frown. "They're all lower class Legion too…no real purpose in teaming up, yet they seem to be co-operating."
"Some kind of convention maybe?" Rosette suggested. "Well, let's not stand around to ask 'em shall we?" Without waiting for an answer, she brought her hand up, and aimed her gun directly at the group, and with an almost gleeful grin, began to fire.
Remington and Chrno both exchanged embarrassed looks at one another, not sure what to make of their trigger happy assistant, before shrugging, and joining the fray.
As extermination jobs went, this one was a walk in the park. The Legion didn't know what hit them, nor put up much of a fight, which as Rosette reflected upon lowering her gun, was a very strange thing.
"Is it just me…or did that seem far too easy?" she strode out into the square, kicking at a pile of ash that was the only remains of a demon, and fixing the two detectives with a frown. "They didn't even put up a fight."
"It did seem a bit rushed." Remington added. "But there were three of us with advanced weapons…"
"ROSETTE LOOK OUT!" The assistant exorcist whirled, in time to have Chrno's small body collide with hers, knocking her flat to the floor, as a flaming ball of fire slammed into the wall behind them.
Her breath was nearly knocked clear, as her back hit the street, and they went skidding several feet along the slick damp pavement, just shy of the fireball.
Remington threw himself aside, narrowly missing being hit himself, and whirled around, gun raised as a large demon materialized out of the smoke.
Wherree…. It's voice was eerie and dripping with malice, as it slowly advanced, each step sending rivets of fire streaking out on the pavement beneath it. Whereeee is shee Our mother….
"What the hell!?" Rosette managed to gasp, as she choked on a mouthful of Chrno's hair, shoving him off of her roughly, to reach for her own gun.
Remington beat her to the punch though, as he pulled the trigger, and a Gospel plowed into the monster towering over them, as it gave a bellow or rage, before exploding in a fiery shower of sparks that made them all wince as embers touched their arms. They all threw hands up to block the brilliant blinding flash from their vision, as the demon faded into the night, almost as brilliantly as it had appeared.
"Well. That was fun." Rosette stated flatly, pushing herself to her elbows, and brushing off her shirt with a sigh. She glanced over at Chrno who was rubbing his elbow, which had a torn sleeve in his jacket. "You okay?" At his nod, she pushed herself up. "Okay… did anyone else find that a little bit weird? Some big bad demon comes up, and cries for his mommy."
"Maybe he was feeling insecure?" Chrno suggested giving her a quick grin, closing his eyes in good humor.
"Oh right. Let's just send him to counseling then." She muttered. "No extermination necessary, just hire a shrink."
"Well we've seen weirder things." Remington suggested.
She shook her head, and shoved herself back up, and headed back to the car since they were finished here. "Don't start."
Their trip back was a bit more relaxed, as she and Remington exchanged their usual jibes with one another, enjoying to nettle their egos. Neither of them noticed the sudden quietness of their smaller companion, as his dark eyes looked deeply troubled, staring out the window.