Disclaimer: Shuffle

Disclaimer: Shuffle! and all canon characters therein are property of outside companies, and I claim no ownership over them.

NOTE 1: In the course of writing Shuffle!Hope I am bound to make mistakes in grammar and especially in the story itself. Thereby, I implore all who read this to check my personal profile page for updates on Shuffle!Hope. It will give clear details on what chapters I'm updating and what in those chapters I am updating.

NOTE 2: I will maintain on my profile page, a daily schedule of the progress of my works. If you are interested in how far I am on a particular story, by all means please visit my profile page.

Shuffle!Hope

Dark vines and shadowy limbs carpeted the jungle around the barricaded stone temple that both King of the Gods and King of the demons named "Site Y." Inside the heavily guarded (both magically and manned) mosque, brilliant scientists and intricate computer networks worked diligently to unravel the secrets of life through Project Yggdrasil. Every night these chemists, physicists, mathematicians and even sorcerers worked long into the night to record every detail of the magic held within the chosen subjects, confident that no one outside of themselves could disturb them in their research

Tonight was like any other night.

The soldiers had nicknamed the door "Shugoshin", the Guardian Deity, for that was exactly what it was. A mixture of stone, steel and concrete, this architectural nightmare stood twenty meters high and ten meters across and was further entwined with magical runes that warded intruders and the occasional dragon. The runic shield made the door impenetrable by practically anything smaller than a nuclear warhead, and that was not the only function of the shield.

Private Tenmura Yoshida was the youngest, freshest blood that was personally assigned to this small fortification and because of that, drew the graveyard shift three to four days out of the week. But being an easy-going person, it did not bother him whatsoever. Getting the shit work came with the territory and was natural for someone with so little experience in the field he had chosen to be in.

This made him smile, and yawn. Although boring and long, it made for a very peaceful night for a soldier who discouraged himself from more exciting, adventurous endeavors. The only noise that came from the other side of the door were the occasional rat monkeys, blue chimera's and one or two mating wilsappers, which were basically frogs the size of a small dog. Creatures that, although he would not want to meet outside, had no chance of getting through this security system, not that it mattered if it did, considering the amount of soldiers that roamed the halls and the sheer amounts of technological and magical devices that guarded the miniature fortress.

It was a normal night, peaceful and serene.

Then, Shugoshin spoke.

It was the secondary defense of the door, one that alerted the guardsmen inside the great hallway that someone, or something, had just tried to open the door. It was simplistic in nature, so much in fact that it actually proved a burden at times and brought into consideration of lowering the sensitivity of the magic. Whenever someone tried to force or demolish the door, the runes shined a luminescent red, becoming so bright that an actual image of the runed doorway would project itself into the hallway, many times larger than the door itself. In addition to the holographic image, a loud banshee wail emanated from the entrance to the hall, loud enough to wake the heaviest sleeper, which abounded on this particular shift.

Yoshida, being five feet from the door, leaped a similar distance backwards the moment the screech pierced his eardrum and he was basked in a red and white glow. Several of his fellow soldiers and guards also jumped in surprise, some almost falling off the ledges and balconies they were patrolling at that particular moment.

And as quickly as the glow had appeared, it dispersed leaving a faint trail of light in its wake.

"Just a bird," Yoshida thought, "Or a goblin." The nasty little creatures had a penchant for trying to dismantle and break open "da big rok", especially on the graveyard shift, but it always ends with a defeated moan and their short, stumpy figure slouching away from the door.

Yoshida heard a chuckle from behind him and he turned around to face his fellow guardsmen laughing and snickering. One of them leaned over the railing of the balcony and made a jeer at how cowardly he was. Yoshida yelled back at how he saw him nearly fall into the waters below. All in jest of course, the jokes and comments would continue for the next couple days until it was naught but a memory, and then a week or two later, a second fruitless attempt would be made and the laughter would continue.

But when the door clashed again with even more intensity than before, Yoshida began to wonder if this was not a bird.

As protocol dictated whenever signs of forced entry appeared, several soldiers of lower ranks bolted towards their nearest commanding officer, while Yoshida and the others took a defensive stance against the now-crackling magic shield.

Bright white and yellow lightning cascaded around the glowing runes and into its projected image. Once again however, the light blinked away and the loud mixture of crackling electricity and howling screams died down to a soft murmur until the only noise that could be heard from the hallway was the shallow breathing from the men that stood at the ready with their rifles. Yoshida, along with the others, did not drop their guard unlike the first time. There was something different about this potential intruder. Perhaps it was just paranoia, but it felt like the person or thing on the other side of the door was putting pressure on the shield. Maybe it was because the shield never cracked with lightning before, maybe it was because it had never held for so long before…

Or maybe it was because security never called them to confirm what was on the other side. So they held their positions, knowing in their gut that Shugoshin would speak again.

It did. But what followed sent a cold sweat down Yoshida's forehead.

The soldiers, guards, and sorcerers were taught that the magical shield gives off two colors. Red, the more common considering the outside wildlife, indicated a physical entry while the rarer green told the men on the other side of the doorway that something magical or supernatural tried to force or phase itself through the doorway. But never since its construction had the shield flashed a painful array of yellow and blue as it strained to counter the force on the other side. Nor had the projection ever bubbled and curved outwards, grasping and clawing at Yoshida as if it were asking, begging Yoshida to help it. Each and every second the room crackled and hissed at the purple and white lightning that threatened to burn all the soldiers to a crisp.

Then, in one deafening, glass-shattering explosion, the magic shield burst into thousands of tiny, glowing fragments that turned to sparkling dust the moment after it shattered.

Silence.

Being the closest to the shield, it was naturally assumed that it was Yoshida's duty to investigate and his superior officers made sure he knew that. He did not want to, but he knew it was his responsibility as a soldier as he slowly advanced on the door, uncertain of what awaited on the other side or its stability. The door, its runes fractured and broken, still stood large and intimidating to Yoshida, more so knowing that it was not the great guardian of Project Y's secrets anymore.

It was cold, freezing almost to the touch. Whatever had destroyed the shield had took away the life from Shugoshin, its corpse completely broken. However…a noise. It was faint, distant, and unclear. Yoshida listened hard; hoping that what he was hearing was what he thought it was. It was! Shugoshin lived! Its heart was beating, fast and strong, ready to awaken with life at any…

Yoshida bolted. He ran as fast as he could to escape what was coming. Shugoshin, as much as he wanted to think it was not, was still an inanimate object. It had to heart, no soul, anything that made it a living being. No…that "heart" he heard beating had no desire to awaken life to anything, it was a heart of destruction. But before he could warn anyone else, the explosion slammed him to the ground and sent a tidal wave of dust barreling towards him.

Shugoshin had not merely been destroyed, it had been obliterated, completely and efficiently. Luckily, the larger chunks of obsidian had missed all the soldiers, though a few had lodged themselves mere inches away from the balconies where several soldiers stood. Even Yoshida, the one closest to the blast, was far enough away from the concussion of the blast to merely bruise his legs and face. In fact, the door had absorbed most of the impact from the bomb and that was why Yoshida was unharmed, he thought at any rate. Then again, he could have been suffering from a mild concussion and was not thinking straight. Though, when he slowly began to pick himself up off the ground, he knew something was wrong. There was someone else on the ground floor with him.

Through the thick cloud of gray stood a man that seemed to be as tall as the pillar of debris. Dressed in black from head to toe, the man surveyed the area around him and Yoshida noticed the large, bubble-like helmet that encompassed his entire head and more. The visor of the helmet was clear enough to give the young soldier a view of the man's cold, unwavering eyes. Looking right at him.

The wall of dust parted for the man as he made his way towards Yoshida. Aside from his grand entrance and ominous figure, there was nothing else that labeled this man as dangerous. No visible weapons, no flaring magic, nothing.

So why did Yoshida find it hard to breathe in his presence?

A crippling fear glued him to his position to the ground. The shouts from behind him from his fellow soldiers were muffled and distant. The only noises he could hear was his own breath slowly entering and exiting his body, his own heart beating with intense pressure, and the man's slow, thunderous footsteps that echoed in rhythm to his pounding heart. But all he could see, all he could feel, was the man's eyes boring into his.

The man slowly raised his right arm in an arching motion behind him.

A gunshot sprayed a small stream of blood from the man's knee.

And Yoshida could hear again. He could see again. He could feel again.

It was only a moment as he listened to twenty or more soldiers yelling in unison at the intruder to stand down, surrender, or drop to his knees. The man's gaze examined the area where the bullet had come from, and Yoshida briefly followed his eyes, noticing his best friend, Kagurazaki, glued to the intruder with his rifle. Then he noticed the dart in the intruder's hand.

Now he had to make a choice. Follow protocol and give the intruder a chance to surrender, or kill him then and their. The assault rifle was there, he could do so with ease. But doing so could cost him more than just his job. He could be charged with aggravated assault, even murder. And although it was obvious he had caused the explosion somehow, he had still done nothing technically wrong.

And with every fiber of his being, Yoshida knew he had to kill this man.

Screaming in blind fury and fear, he used all of his strength to raise the gun and pull the trigger. His arm buckled and straightened with each deafening roar of the rifle, his shoulder jerking painfully with every recoil. Each bullet ripped a small hole into the thick leather armor and tore through the man's flesh smoother than butter. With every passing fraction of a second the man tumbled backwards as blood sprayed out his back and oozed out his front. And after an eternity of automatic fire, the man fell to the ground, blood all around him, a crack in the visor of his helmet.

Exhilaration, adrenaline, power. A goofy, eerie smile was plastered over Yoshida's face. He had only ever fired the gun in practice, but it never had made him feel…more alive than what he had now. The ball quickly filled with the excited cheers of soldiers and guardsmen who had wished they could have done what Yoshida had done. The older soldiers quietly holstered their weapons, somewhat disappointed they could not have part of the kill.

Yoshida hooted and hollered as he waved to his friends, reveling in the moment, the glory of the kill. Who he was and why he had been there were questions that could be answered at a later time. For now, he enjoyed the moment.

"I might sign up for a more dangerous position," he said to himself, "Have more 'once in a lifetime' moments." He chuckled, and the room went silent.

Deathly silent. Unnatural, unholy silence. Several of the guards hissed Yoshida's name, most of them just stared in awe, mouth's agape. At first, Yoshida thought he had done something wrong, or strangely enough, his pants might have fallen down. That is when he felt the presence of a violent, turbulent force behind him. He could hear the bones in his neck creak as he turned his head around to see what was behind him; he could feel his muscles straining in agony as if they knew what was already behind him. When he was completely turned around he looked up in horror as the man he had just riddled with bullets towered over him, unharmed and completely unfazed. The crack in the visor distorted his right eye, but he could tell by the left one that his mind was being bored from the inside by those same cold eyes. The man reached up and pushed the visor out of his face and blinked.

"You're right…" the man said apathetically, "Death, is, a once in a lifetime opportunity…"

Yoshida stepped backwards and attempted raised his gun to intimidate, scare, or at the least make the man hesitate. Then the man swung his arm downward, and the last thing Yoshida saw before his vision went dark was half of his rifle and a large amount of his blood fly far into the air.

And Kagurazaki's yell fell unto deaf ears.

Gunfire rang through the air and bullets sped across the room at lightning speed. The intruder had bent himself at the waist in a defensive position and swung his right arm wildly in front of him. Showers of sparks collided with the spray of his own blood as bullets collided with an invisible force and ran through his body. Yet he pressed on, uncaring of the bullets he could not deflect and unhurt of the ones that did. Every so often he would fall to his knee if he was hit in a vital area, but would immediately get back up and press forward, flailing his arm wildly in front of him as the force deflected bullet after bullet.

"Why isn't he dead?!" a soldier yelled from the balcony.

"We're not hitting him!"

"YES, we are! I saw some go through his-" the soldier flew backwards and slammed against the wall behind him. Several men ran to him to see why he clawed at his chest, only to see the hilt of a small dagger lodged deep in the right side of his chest. He gasped and begged for air while he looked at his friends with panic.

More men were launched to the rear of the balconies, daggers buried in random parts of their body. But for each guardsmen downed two more came to take their fallen comrade's place. Their injuries and deaths only further fueled their rage and they fired with increased accuracy.

Yet the man continued.

A trail of blood followed the intruder as he advanced on the doorway, showing no signs of weariness or exhaustion. He only hesitated when the doorway to the main laboratory opened and a dozen soldiers ran forward and dropped to their knees.

"Defensive positions!" The captain yelled and his men opened fire. The intruder's body buckled and shook with violent spasms as the new squad of soldiers created more shrapnel's of metal than he could deflect. And again he fell to his knees. There was no denying the dark red droplets dripping off of his body onto the floor, the gunfire was hitting him.

"Hold your fire!" The captain ordered, "Hold your fire!" The intruder had been wounded deeply, and the captain was proud of that. There was nothing that could not be handled with several hundred rounds of machine gun fire. If he was not dead, he was close to death.

But slowly, the running waterfalls of blood began to slow to a drizzle, then a dripping, until finally his blood stopped exiting his body. Only the men on the ground floor could see what was happening in front of them, the soldiers on higher floors completely unaware of what was transpiring on the ground below.

"Is that it?" The man in black asked coldly, "Are you done?"

Much to the surprise to the soldiers on the second floor, the intruder pushed himself onto his feet with ease, no signs of struggling or ache in his movements. When he stood fully erected, he raised his head in unison with the rest of his body and rotated his shoulder.

He leaned on the right side of his body and reached over to grab his extended arm. The leather crumpled under the pressure. "That's good. Because I am on a time schedule." And in one horrifying movement, forced his arm backward with so much force that the bone from his arm tore through his skin, again, not showing a sign of pain or regret.

The captain looked closer on the bone that protruded from the man's arm. It was oddly shaped and colored, for a bone at any rate. There were no curves or protrusions to it; no shape that indicated it was a bone at all. Straight, narrow, and black as the night sky, it actually looked like the hilt of a sword.

"What…" the captain gasped out, "What kind of monster are you…?"

Portions of flesh and blood flew from the back of his shoulder as he ripped the single-edged sword from his shoulder and arm. Its blade was as long as his arm was and the metal was tainted with a deep red hue. For a moment his left arm remained motionless, until a forceful cracking sound breathed life back into his arm and his fist grasped at air. Transferring the blood-soaked sword to that hand, his right one also grasped at something high above his head and he bent at his waist, facing the guards on his level. The sword in his left hand dripped with blood, and whatever was in his right also gleamed of the red liquid. The intruder's eyes met the captain's.

"Here I come."

The man bolted towards the captain's position, faster than any man should ever be. Scattered gunfire showed the soldier's fear and panic at the outburst of speed. No bullets touched him, and within seconds he was on top of the squadron of men.

His right hand thrust forward and in an instant, three men, staggered behind one another, were run through by an invisible force. A soldier rushed forward to smash his face with the butt of the rifle, but he swung his body around, yanking whatever was in those men out and swinging his left arm backwards to split the rifle in two, and slashing a huge gash in the soldier's chest.

Too afraid to fire in fear of hitting their comrades, too proud to run away, soldiers stood in awe as the man gracefully spun between them, blocking melee blows with his left hand weapon, and spilling blood with his right. Men backpedaled in hopes of escaping the reach of his sword, but whatever he held in his right hand stopped them in their tracks, falling into pools of their own blood. Finally there was enough room to fire their weapons, but like before, they proved useless. The bullets only served as a nuisance to the intruder as shards of leather and blood were flung in the air as the sword in his left hand cut off the barrel of the rifle and once again he wounded more soldiers with his right.

He was the only man left, the only one not keeled over in pain or bleeding slowly from deep lacerations. Dumbstruck. Terrified. Cowardly. No plans of action came into the captain's mind, no idea of how to destroy this killing machine, and certainly no way of how to escape this battle alive. Their eyes met. He was unable to read the intruder. Was he planning on killing him? Or did he no longer perceive him as a threat? Rather, which one would he despise more?

His questions were answered as a cold, wet metal rubbed against his cheek. Whatever was in the man's right hand was extended at him and he meant it to cause much harm to him. He could not see what it was, only the red droplets of blood that lingered on this invisible object. How far away was this man? Five feet? Six? What could he possibly be holding?

The intruder brought his arm across him and he twisted his wrist. Decapitation was his goal, he did not want this man to escape alive. Being a God, the captain did not know who to turn to, who to answer his prayer?

Nonetheless, it got through.

A crashing explosion rocked the hallway and both the captain and intruder spun to face the metal armor that stood adjacent the door to the laboratory. It had swung its giant axe into the ground right before the door, blocking any attempt of entering. At that same moment, the giant on the other side of the door also screeched to life as it clashed its' twin concrete swords together in anger.

"The security system has kicked in!" A soldier scream.

"We're saved!"

The intruder snapped his head towards the captain, who was grinning from ear to ear. If by some chance, an intruder had gotten to this point of the great hallway, the twin sentinels guarding the doorway would come alive with magical fury and would attempt to destroy any unauthorized person from accessing the door to the laboratory. Even this man could not possibly stand to battle both the fifteen-foot sentinels and the remaining company of soldiers that awaited him.

And still, the intruder was completely calm.

"What are you going to do now?" The arrogant captain asked.

The slamming footsteps grew louder as the sentinels drew nearer to their position. The captain knew they would not attack him, and even if by chance they did, they would focus on the man in black first.

The man took a deep breath.

And he screamed.

"LU-CI-ENNNNNNN!"

Amongst the ground-shaking stomping of the sentinels, the only thing talked about from the soldiers was…

"What's a lucien?"

A scream of pain rocked the great hall, and another. More scattered gunfire lit up a darkened hall that intersected the great hallway. And from the darkness, a man barreled through the air.

The soldier hit two of the guardsmen as he flew towards them, knocking one to the ground and the other over the balcony with him to the floor below. Three men were left standing as they gazed motionless into the dark alley, only to see a pair of tiny red lights bobbing in the darkness. Then they screamed.

"WHAT IS THAT?!"

A shadowy figure burst from the darkness and howled at his prey. It was humanoid in shape but not in style. Elongated fingers curved to sharpened nails, and his face was blanketed by the shadow of his hair, the only light given off was the gleam of its red eyes and the glistening of its dagger-sharp teeth.

One of the guards threw his gun in the air in fright and he was the first one in the creature's grasp. Its teeth bore down into his shoulder and he lifted him off the ground, shaking him like a rag doll. When it finally let go it hurled him at another man who still held his weapon and they collided in a wind-shattering "Oof!" The last man cursed at the thing and raised his weapon at its face that hissed a warning to him.

Two more soldiers came out of the darkness and yelled at it, which set off a chain reaction by making the guard on the balcony turn his head, then the creature attacked.

From a slouched stance it leapt at the two new guardsmen, several feet above their heads. Two swift kicks bounced the men off of the archway leading into the dark hall, and they stumbled forward in a daze. They were immediately stopped when the thing grabbed the back of their uniforms and slammed them together, and without hesitation it slid between them the moment they separated and slammed its hands and feet into their mid-section. And as one final display of power, it gripped them both by the collar and leapt into the air, spinning. At the peak of its jump it let go of the soldiers and they flew off in opposite directions. The only soldier remaining just stared.

The creature turned its attention on him and out of instinct he pulled the trigger, bullets bounced off the ground around the creature and it skittered forward and upwards, bringing its metal teeth around the barrel of the rifle and biting down. Although it did not break it completely, the barrel had bent upwards from the force of its bite and several splintering shards shone through its teeth. A few muffled blows sent the soldier screaming over the edge of the balcony.

Confusion was rampant in the great hall. In addition to the thundering footsteps of the sentinels, the room was rife with gunfire, shouting, and the ear-piercing scream of something otherworldly. Bullets sped every which way, no one knew who or what to shoot at. The immortal monster on the ground floor or the violent, rampaging one that leapt from balcony to balcony, throwing soldiers over the edge or taking large chunks out of them with its teeth.

Another booming "LUCIEN!" forced the creature to turn its head, the men left on the balcony saw a devious smile purse its lips. And like the rifles they carried, it sprinted off like a shot. The soldiers could see the bones in its shoulder snap into an awkward position, hunching its shoulders and bending at the waist. Using both its feet and knuckles to thrust itself forward, it ran like an ape to the ledge of the balcony and launched itself into the air. Floating for what seemed like an eternity in mid-air, it slammed into the sword-wielding sentinel with a metal-crunching slam, causing the magical construct to lurch forward. Having no concern for its own safety, the creature began mercilessly beating on the construct with its fists, creating huge dents and cracks in the armor. There was no significant damage, and it only seemed to be attacking the sheeted metal out of the pure thrill of it. Heavy gears ground against one another as the sentinel raised its opposite arm into the air and flattened the blade. The creature on its shoulder only noticed the huge sword at the last minute and, instead of leaping away, jumped towards the falling arm and wrapped itself around its wrist. The moment the sword slammed into the sentinel's own shoulder the creature spun itself around the giant hand, and scurried like a frantic feline across its elbow and up towards the opposite shoulder, and there is where it saw its opportunity. A large gap between the metal of its neck and shoulder blade, just large enough for it to slip in there and wasted no time in doing so.

If ever a magical robot could be confused, this one was such. Aware of an enemy in its presence but unaware of where this enemy was exactly. Then it twitched. And again. Then a violent spasm slammed its left fist into the wall and dangerous magical lightning ripped a gash from its head downward. And then it fell silent for the last time. The glowing gems placed in its eye sockets faded into blackened rocks and the swords it wielded fell to the ground in a crashing heap of ruble.

The destroyed sentinel's head flew off its body and the creature's legs receded into the giant's metal body. The first to escape the hole where its head used to be was a large robotic device, most likely a key component to its ability to move and fight. Next was the creature itself, several wires, most likely another key factor in the sentinel's disability, were gripped tightly in its jaws. It surveyed the area only for a moment until bullets bounced off the lifeless metal around the creature's head, and in a threatening hiss lifted itself out of the dead body and bounded off toward those that meant it harm.

The initial intruder ducked underneath a swing of the remaining sentinel's giant hand, and swung his invisible weapon at its legs. A shower of sparks erupted just below the knee of the construct, and it collapsed under its own weight. Whilst it struggled to push itself back onto its feet, the man swung his right hand again and sliced at the joints holding the right knee together. It fell forward, sending a wall of dust upwards. Although it still breathed, there was no way it could stand on its own two feet, though it tried nobly.

The intruder looked at the struggling giant, unconcerned about the state of its well being. A brisk turn of the heel and he moved quickly towards the giant ax that blocked his pathway into the inner recesses of the laboratory. The sentinel had done its job well, the axe was so well placed that there was no way around it. He extended his right hand out towards the axe and a distinct clanking sound could be heard against the axe. The clank turned into a scraping noise as he drew his arm away from the axe, finally snapping his arm into an upright position as he pressed his hand against an invisible surface.

"Your blade is dull, you've worked hard tonight…" he whispered. Another snap of the elbow and he extended his arm outward, yelling, "LUCIEN!"

The rifle fire had died down greatly since the moment the first intruder stepped foot in here. In fact, the shouts of the soldiers overpowered their rifles. There were so little left and so spread thin, the shadowy creature wasted no time to leap next to its master's side. The man pointed at the giant axe and the creature hissed, scurrying quickly to the oversized weapon and grasping the hilt at the base of the head.

A turbulent howl escaped the gut of the creature as it pushed upwards on the axe. It grew even louder as it pushed with even more force, the tiles under its feet cracking ever so slightly, but it looked as if the weapon would not budge.

Slowly, however, it did. The axe was inching its way out of the ground, lodged deep as it was. As it would be, the creature was pushing itself into the ground but it was succeeding in fulfilling its master's request. With one final, glass shattering scream it forced the axe out of the ground and sent it crashing to the floor. Now, nothing stood in the duo's way.

"You expect to get in that easily…?" The wounded captain gasped out, as he lied helpless on his side. The taller intruder stopped in the middle of the axe's blade, but did not look at the man like his smaller, hunched companion did. "This room is on a separate security program from the rest of the compound…" he groaned when he attempted to lift himself up, "You won't be able to even open the first door without security's permission…"

There was a long pause, and from his position on the ground, he could clearly see an evil smile on the hunched creature's face. Then the man spoke.

"We know…" with an eerie motion he turned his head to look at the captain, "We…ALL know…"

Meanwhile, in another section of the laboratory a far distance from the fight in the hallway, several guardsmen pounded on a large, metal door, shouting at the top of their lungs to be let in.

Inside, a large man wearing a white lab coat, white gloves, and a dark green gas mask worked tirelessly at a large console. His lab coat was decorated with light blue fabric bands that encompassed his wrist, arms, and was as flexible as the rest of his clothing. The light and characters from the screen reflected in the dark green lenses of the mask the man wore. Air hissed from the large metal filter that protruded half a foot from his face with each breath he exhumed.

"OPEN UP THIS! INSTANT!"

In the flash of an eye, characters began disappearing from the computer screen. Pages of codes, programming and data were being wiped in seconds, only to be replaced with new screens of information that would be immediately deleted. Except for one tiny detail.

The man in the lab coat slid a small memory card from a slot in a nearby access panel. Unscrewing his filter, he slipped the small memory card into the neck of the filter and began screwing back in.

The noises from the other side of the door continued, although it never overpowered the screaming of the soldiers. Smooth, steady breathing hissed through the filter of his mask as he slowly turned his head towards the doorway.

"THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING! OPEN…!"

The door to the room slid open.

"Up?"

A small explosion rocked the hallway and sent a billowy fog of white rumbling through the hallways. The soldier's initial yelp of shock was immediately replaced by their screams of anguish.

"MY EYES!"

"I CAN'T…BREATHE!"

Coughing and gagging soon replaced their screams until they had lost consciousness and fell to the floor with a loud thud. They grasped out for their dropped weapons and the white lab coat that flashed in their fading field of vision. And the man in the coat and mask walked past them casually.

The thick fog of noxious fumes emptied into a second, larger hallway that was devoid of any life. Soon afterwards, however, the man in white tromped out of the smaller hallway, wisps of the fumes dragged along his swaying coat and he reached behind his back and clasped his hands together. Several adjacent hallways later and the man in white ran into the man in black.

"Sir," addressed the man in white.

"Doctor," the leather-clad man replied. Side by side they briskly walked down the large hallway, until the doctor spoke up.

"Where is Lucien sir?"

On cue, a soldier burst through a door, mere feet in front of them and slammed into the far wall. Following him was the creature, Lucien, walking on its feet and knuckles, who acknowledged both his master and the doctor. The unnamed man stepped over the unconscious soldier, his eyes focused forward.

"Must you walk like that?" The doctor asked Lucien, who snarled at him. Cracking the bones in its shoulders, it straightened its spine enough to lift its hands off of the ground, however, still maintaining the hunched stance. The doctor felt the need to reply again, "Did you forget how to go the rest of the way?"

"Bite your tongue human!" Lucien's voice was harsh and low, and blended with its violent growl made his frightening visage even more terrifying. But the doctor did not even blink.

"Enough," the man in black said sternly, "The job is only half done. Lucien, round up the scientists." With a growl, Lucien sped off down the hallway and into another corridor, "Doctor, come with me."

The doctor nodded and the two walked side by side to a large metal door that towered over them. While the doctor stared upwards at the monstrosity, the man in black bee-lined for a standard panel of the metal panels that surrounded the door. A quick sleight of hand removed a well-hidden section of the panel, revealing a panel that contained multiple keys of Demonic, Divine, and Japanese characters and writing. Instead of punching the keys in, however, the man stretched his hand towards the doctor and snapped his fingers. Continuing to look up at the door, the doctor walked over and placed a small device into the man's hand. Without thanks, the man pulled a wire from the device and plugged it into an insert in the panel. On a display panel above the keypad, several words began to form themselves without cause until five words of all three languages displayed themselves on the panel.

A flashing light appeared over the doorway far above the two men, and the sound of gears grinding echoed in their ears. Slowly the door opened itself to them to show the men what was inside. When the door had opened itself more than halfway, the men were greeted with the brilliant flash of concentrated magic.

The man in white immediately jumped out of the way, but the leather-clad man held his ground. Faster than the magic had appeared in front of them, his arm went to his wrist and snapped it forward. The magical blast hit him head on, or so it seemed. In actuality, the lighting-fast movement wielded him a sword that impacted the magical blast in his place. The red bolt of magic turned a bright hue of white that reflected the color of the sword. A hiss of magic and a puff of steam and the bolt had dispersed into nothingness. All that remained was a sword whose glow was slowly fading, at the wispy fumes of magic that once was.

On the far side of the exposed room stood three men, decked in white lab coats and squared hats. Their faces were frozen in terror.

"How…How did you…what…?" One of their eyes gazed upon the sword, whose glow had long faded. Its blade was dull and riddled with divots and cracks. Rust lined the back of the blade and its general appearance was a sword that had long been passed its usefulness. Until one of the sorcerers recognized it.

"Musabori-Maho…" he whispered. The other sorcerers looked at him, then back at the man, "It can't be…"

"The Magic Devourer…" the leather-clad man stated clear and loudly, and brought the blade underneath his eyes. The man's eyes met the sorcerers'.

"You…you will not destroy what we've worked so hard to accomplish!" One of the sorcerers yelled. The other two brought their mana to the tips of their fingertips alongside their colleague, and readied another blast of magic.

By this time, the doctor had leapt to his feet and threw his arms towards the sorcerers. There was a blight flash of reflected light and a small explosion, and the three sorcerers were engulfed in a thick, jagged block of ice. The doctor turned his head towards his superior, who's gaze remained focused on the far end of the room. Although he never acknowledged him, the man strode forward, and the doctor followed in his footsteps.

"Is she connected to any life support systems?" He asked as he sheathed Musabori.

"Just an oxygen mask, but she can breathe normally once she is out of the suspended fluid," the doctor replied as his eyes transfixed on the flashing laboratory equipment in front of him.

"Time until extraction?"

"Four, maybe three minutes. Does Lucien know he is not supposed to kill the scientists?"

"Maybe. Do we have time to demolish this equipment?"

"Not much, but it shouldn't matter. I was able to purge the mainframe of all data about the Yggdrasil Project. Whatever remains is fractured and jumbled and will take them months, even years to piece together."

"Good…"

The leather-clad man strapped Musabori-Maho to his back and grasped a second sword, the one he wielded in the great hallway minutes earlier. Unsheathing its blade, he pointed the tip at the Fourth Project.

She was young, not nearly as young as Primula, but younger than Nerine. Her hair was long and shone of a violet hue and hung listlessly in the fluid, wrapping around to her front enough to cover her bare breasts. Her body was thin yet healthy, and she looked very peaceful in the amniotic liquid.

"She looks a lot like her…" the man in black stated. The doctor, who had situated himself at a nearby computer, stopped for a brief moment. Neither of them looked at the other. "Do you not think so?"

The doctor never answered, instead continuing on to his work. The leather-clad man walked up to the Fourth Project and with a quick slash of his wrist, sliced at the container the Project was held in.

--

The King of the God and Demon Realm stood next to each other, as they viewed the broken glass that was strewn across the floor in front of them. Forbesii had his hand across his mouth, to hide the surprise and shock that was expressed on it, while Eustoma wandered around the laboratory with his hands at his waist, obviously upset by the turn of events.

"What are the damages…?" Forbesii asked to a man who had hidden himself in the background.

"W-Well…" the man stuttered, not wanting to bring the King's wrath upon him, "The damage to the security camera system was extensive, but what will take a big chunk of the budget is Shugoshin and the two Sentinels. We estimate the cost of rebuilding Shugoshin with addition to the extensive runic symbols will run around fifty-six million yen, and the sentinel whose internal core was disassembled will cost…"

"I'm not talking about the damn constructs! There were ambulances and Evac helicopters outside! What did they do to the men?!"

The advisor jumped, and began tearing through the leaflets he held in his hand, "Oh! Um, sorry Your Highness! Well um, let's see here…it's in here some-Oh here it is!" He coughed nervously as he reviewed the figures, "Well…five men have bled to death from deep lacerations, and a sixth was pierced in the heart by four-inch dagger, the only thing we could recover of the intruders." Both Forbesii and Eustoma bowed their heads deeply and ran their hands over their eyes, "Fifty men were seriously injured from lacerations, broken bones, multiple puncture wounds, airborne poisons…and four men were encased in ice, so hypothermia. Thirteen other soldiers were injured."

"And the scientists…?" Eustoma asked.

"Ano, they only suffered minor injuries, but a psychoanalytic drug was administered to them so they are completely incomprehensible. It will be a couple weeks before they will say anything that makes a bit of sense."

Forbesii turned to the broken cylinder, and the dangling oxygen mask that swayed back and forth, "What about Fuyu-chan…the fourth project?"

The advisor remained silent for a few moments, until the King's turned to him. Biting down on his upper lip, he reluctantly forced out the report, "Missing…Your Highness'…several soldiers who were still conscious saw the three of them escape with the Project. She seemed unharmed, but was unconscious."

This only angered the King's further, though they knew better than to take it out on the advisor. Finally, Forbesii spoke, "This…all this…just to get at Yggdrasil."

"Do you think this was planned from the beginning? Nerine? Sia and Kaede? Us?" Eustoma asked as he picked up a wet piece of glass.

"I'm beginning to…" Forbesii replied, "Although…I would still like to have brought Rin and the girls with us. I'd feel more comfortable knowing they were safe."

Eustoma sighed, "They all expressed interest in finishing out school. There was no idea how long we were going to be away from the human world, and with only a few months to graduation, it would be terrible of us to force them to give up on this opportunity. Still…"

"I know Shin-chan…I know…"

The two Kings took off from the laboratory and down the unusually clean hallway, the advisor trailing them like a lost puppy.

"But what I want to know his…" Eustoma said, the frustration in his voice rising, "How did THREE men manage to infiltrate this compound (much less how they FOUND it), wipe out an entire platoon of guardsmen and sorcerers, erase all of the data of Yggdrasil Project, then abscond with an entire person into thin air?!"

"Well, um, Your Highness…" the advisor stuttered, "These men…weren't normal…"

"Explain," Forbesii demanded.

"Well, I…I wish I could. But the testimonials are so jumbled and screwed up, I don't know what's true and what's a delusion."

"Give us as much as you can."

"Well…as you know, there were three men…" the King's rolled their eyes, unnoticed by the advisor.

--

"What?!" Sia yelled at the police officer, "What do you mean he wasn't arrested?!"

The young, mahogany-haired girl was backed by all of her friends, who had visited the police station. A few days ago, a day after her and Nerine's father had left for the other realms, the young lady had came to this same police station to report a possible assault. However…

"I'm…I'm sorry Miss…" the shocked police officer said, "But we took your teacher into company as a possible suspect, but there was no evidence leading against him, his DNA didn't match anything in our files…"

"No evidence?!" Sia yelled, "What about the scars on his face and arm from where I burned him?!"

"I am going to have to ask you to settle down," the officer replied, becoming a little more stern with Sia. Nerine had walked up to the venting Goddess and placed her hand on her shoulder. It was not enough to comfort the Goddess, but I was enough to calm her down. The officer continued, "When we took him into questioning, he had no scars. Not to mention…" the shifted eyes told Sia and the rest that he was about to tell them something he should not, "We have two eyewitness accounts that he was elsewhere that night. One of which was a student of his, a one Hamada-ooops!"

That was definitely more information than he was authorized to give out. Whether it was the cascade of beauties around him that made him talkative or that he was into gossip, he had spilled more than he was supposed to. Mayumi's eyes widened with the prospect of a good scoop, and Sia's brow furrowed with aggravation.

Then a voice disturbed the scene.

"Pardon me young miss…but are you referring to Anthony Rochester?"

The group turned their heads in unison, and as one the girls were immediately taken aback. The man who had addressed Sia was tall and handsome, with long, gray hair that reached to the middle of his back, and a gentle smile that made them, especially the girls, feel safe…and warm.

"H-Hai…?" Sia responded as a slight blush came to her face.

The man's smile grew, and he bowed in front of her, "Allow me to introduce myself, I am Lucien Von Wolfsbane, an associate of Anthony-sensei. I am…how should I put it, his alibi for that night." Sia nodded, as did the rest of the girls, "While I admit that Anthony is a bit anti-social and, at times, crude, I can assure you that he is no murderer." Lucien chuckled, and gave the group a reassuring smile, "He can't even bring himself to harm his dissections, he has to have them pithed outside of his lab before he can examine them."

"Okay…" Sia said lustily, a tone that Rin immediately took note too.

"Ano…" Nerine butted in. Although her face was not as red as Sia, she still had an aura that infatuated itself around Lucien, "Wolfsbane-san, I heard Anthony-sensei speak Demonic the other day, and, if I may be so forward, he is quite rude to…"

Lucien laughed and waved a hand in front of him, "Of course of course! Anthony-sensei is a genius, as you know, a prodigy as a child growing up in the human realm. When the Kaimon Gate was opened, he was one of the volunteers from Oxford to travel through the Gate to learn more about the Realm's that lay outside of his own. In about a year's time, he had already mastered our language, and, if I'm not mistaken, is learning Divine as well. I'm surprised to hear that he has been rather cold towards you, but please be at peace, as I'm sure he means you no harm."

The blush on Nerine's face grew, and she backed off into the group with a small smile on her lips. Right now, the only ones who were not blushing and giggling were the two men, who were rather disgusted by the entire situation.

"Oh-Okay…" Sia said lazily as she stared into his eyes. Rin responded with a shout.

"What?! Just like that?!"

The man bowed his head slightly again, and reached over to Sia and gently grasped her hand. Bringing it up to his face, he kissed it gently and let go of her hand, their fingers grasped until their fingertips brushed off one another, "I unfortunately must be going, I have important business to take car of. Please, young misses, do take care of yourself." With a nod, he turned on his heels and walked briskly out the door, the five pairs of eyes staring lustfully at him. Rin and Itsuki scowled and crossed their arms.

"The competition is getting tougher by the minute in this town…" Itsuki growled to Rin, low enough so no one else could hear it. Rin's scowl focused on Itsuki, and his knuckles collided with his face.

"C'mon everyone, let's go home," he said with a huff, as Itsuki swayed back and forth until he collapsed on the ground.

Several hundred yards away from the police station, the man who addressed himself as Lucien stared coldly at the entrance of the station. His eyes followed the group of giggling girls and their trailing male counterparts as they walked out of the doors and down an opposite road. When they were nearly out of side, he addressed the real Lucien.

"Keep an eye on them Lucien. The doctor will contact you when I need you."

"Yes master!" A violent yet ecstatic hiss escaped from the darkness behind him, and the sound of sprinting footsteps grew ever more quietly until silence prevailed over the town. In seconds, there was no trace of any living soul having stood there.

--

END CHAPTER

--

I guess I have a lot of explaining to do with my absence. I'm going to skip the boring parts and just tell you that life has been hectic, as I'm sure it has been for all of you. I promised I would not give up on this story, or Elfen Lied: Neue Pfade and I intend to keep that promise. Writing will slow down, I can't guarantee precise Chapter Update dates, but I will work hard to get them finished as soon as possible.

ATTENTION ALL READERS!!: It has come to my attention that people may find this particular chapter "tedious" and boring. Now I would like to point out that this is not a "bad" thing, it is a building thing on my part. In fact, I need you, the reader to tell me if you DID find this chapter difficult to get through, from lack of Canon Characters. I need to know this because a future chapter of Shuffle!Hope will, at this point, only contain a very minimal number of Canon's for ONE CHAPTER! I need to know this ahead of time in case i need to make any necessary adjustments to that particular chapter. If you've already commented on this fanfic, just tell me if yo had problems with this chapter is all. Thank you for your time.

NEXT CHAPTER: While the King's struggle to put the pieces together, Nerine is about to find out something about herself that she may not like.