It's snowing, in April, there's something wrong with that.
Dawn had chased away the dark night, providing relief to those who had fought against the Akuma invasion. Yet a storm seemed to be approaching, for thick dark clouds swept through the skies and darkened what should have been a sunny day. Shakespeare would have said it was heaven's way of showing disapproval of the possible union between Allen and Kanda, but it was more likely due to the tyranny of the newcomer at the Black Order. The guards were enforcing Malcolm's new orders, several prisoners were held underground, others were limited in their freedom, and the injured remained in the infirmary wing, resting.
Miranda wasn't physically injured by the attack on the Tower, but using her Innocence so extensively and over such a large perimeter had exhausted her. So she was in the infirmary, resting, as per orders of the strict nurse the Black Order employed. Some of the injured, like Kanda, had already sneaked out, but there was almost no doubt that when the nurse found them they would all be taken back on threat of torture or other morbid things. Miranda had decided to stay, the nurse genuinely cared about their well being, and who was she to antagonize the occasionally overzealous matron nurse?
She did consider asking for a transfer at least, because the bed next to her happened to be Howard Link's.
Not that Link was a bad neighbour, the man didn't snore when he took a short nap, and when he was awake he made sure to keep quiet. Still, the unsmiling face and serious eyes made Miranda nervous, and the fact that the two of them were the only ones in this infirmary wing made the tension worse. She had tried to escape into sleep but her nervousness only prevented it, so she had remained facing the other side, pretending to be asleep. It didn't work.
"You have no reason to be so frightened when we're both simply recovering from the attack," Link suddenly said, and Miranda nearly jumped in surprise.
"Ah?" She managed, Link turned his head to look at her.
"Your grip on the sheets was tight and your breathing is irregular, you fake sleep in order to remain quiet, so I assume you are tense." Link's observations made Miranda felt incompetent again, but she restrained herself from her old instincts, where she would apologize and run. "You ought to relax, while you can."
"True enough," a new voice added as a man entered the ward. Miranda's body tensed further, and she hoped the sheets around her body covered that sign of fear, for the man approaching them was none other then Malcolm Levellier, Black Order inspector and representative of the Vatican. "While a paranoid Exorcist constantly on guard may be beneficial for the cause, that only lasts until the stressed Exorcist cracks."
Outside, thunder rumbled ominously, and blue light flashed briefly through the windows. Miranda gazed at Malcolm, she knew she didn't like him after all his 'administrative changes'. The tall man was an ominous figure, cast in the shadows of the dimly lit room, face only seen when lightning flashed. Malcolm must have noticed her wary gaze, for he simply shrugged, "Don't worry, I'm not here to tell you that you're under some form of suspicion either. There's no need to be so afraid."
"Why are you here, then?"
"Such hostility, how unexpected from someone of your demeanour," Malcolm smirked. "Can't I simply visit my injured subordinates?" Miranda didn't respond, but her eyes said enough, and Malcolm's smirk simply widened. "Very well, I'm actually here to confirm a report I found. As you should have known, before your former supervisor Komui Lee betrayed us he already had his title removed. With it all the access he had to secret, confidential files – including the ones he himself labelled classified – was given to me. We looked into some of them and a rather interesting report came up."
Without breaking eye contact with the Exorcist, Malcolm reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper that looked as if it had been removed from a larger package. "This document was written by you, and it seems to be a longer version then the one submitted to the public records of your missions. One key phrase was removed, were you aware that your document was modified, 'Bride of Time'?"
Miranda almost stopped breathing as Malcolm continued, "It seems as if the Akuma have been calling you that, meanwhile, this mission report states that you were told there are Exorcists who are connected with the Noah (1). Apparently no one except the traitor Komui Lee knows, because the report given to the staff had the sentence removed."
"Those are the words of an Akuma," Miranda tried. "Their reliability is questionable, so the Supervisor decided that we do not need to put the Tower into a paranoid state."
"Which is why I am doing it now," Malcolm stated. "There is enough concern from above that the Supervisor has been too lax, too easy, on his subordinates. My arrival here is to ensure that some reforms are made, so that the Black Order will return to its former standards. However, even I didn't expect to check the status of the Exorcists. If what the Akuma said is true, an investigation on the Exorcists will be launched straight away."
"That was what Komui wanted to prevent! If the Exorcists got sick of the treatment, they might follow General Cross' footsteps and leave the tower…!"
"Will they? Or…" Malcolm's eyes gleamed viciously, "Are you simply speaking your thoughts, Bride of Time?"
Miranda opened her mouth, to deny, to argue, to answer with something, but Link suddenly launched himself onto her questioner as he yelled, "Inspector, look out!"
A figure flew forward, a booted leg swung at where Malcolm's head had been earlier. Realizing he had missed, the attacker jumped back, sliding across on the floor into a crouching position. Judging by the shape and size of the figure, it was a man, the Finder's robe couldn't hide that. Link pulled Malcolm out of the way as the man sprung forward again, his fists smashed the floor and cracks appeared, Miranda gasped in fear.
A mere Finder, he shouldn't have this much skill or power. Those traits got one a job as a guard in the Black Order, not a low-status Finder. The man's lips were curved upward, snickering and laughing, as from behind him two more Finders appeared.
"Finders?" Malcolm snarled, but the three newcomers did not respond. Their lips remained curved upwards, their laughter mocking. Miranda trembled, there was something so wrong about the Finder's blank eyes and wide grins. They didn't seem to have special powers, but if the first Finder's attack indicated anything it was that the three men were skilled in the fighting arts – something Miranda knew she couldn't face alone.
"You must leave, sir," Despite his injuries Link moved forward so that the inspector may leave untouched. The two Finders who had just arrived jumped forward simultaneously, but Link reacted, one fist knocked a Finder aside while another met his foot. The first Finder ran forward, his movements indicated he was the strongest of the three. Link pulled out his knife, one that he always kept on him, but he moved too fast and pulled at his injury. As he flinched, the Finder punched him in the stomach, and Link fell.
He hacked and coughed, but the Finders had no qualms about kicking him while he was down. They were upon him, punching and kicking, Miranda screamed for them to stop – why wasn't she leaving with Malcolm? – but the Finders ignored her. Link was sure they were going to kill him as his wounds reopened, but instead the two weaker Finders grasped him by the arms and pulled him up. The first Finder grabbed him by the hair.
"Listen, you cur, your master is angering our master. The supervision and forced training is ruining the Black Order, the imprisonment and disappearance of dissenters disgusting." Link gritted his teeth in pain, but despite his swollen eye he looked at the face of the Finder who was talking to him. He looked familiar, but all Finders in the Tower looked the same. Unless Link saw him again he wouldn't be able to identify the man.
"If you and the rest of the Black Order stop serving that Vatican dictator, we'll spare you, but if you continue throwing your lot with him we won't show mercy." The Finder brought a fist back, "Consider this your only warning!"
There was a sharp crack, but Link didn't scream, and the Finders disappeared just in time as Malcolm returned with several guards. Link got up unsteadily, covered in bruises, bleeding from the reopened wound, and on his face was a swollen eye and cut lip. Those things were not of concern at the moment.
"I'll recover from this, sir, but more importantly you may be on to something." Link was deadly serious as he continued, "There are spies in the Black Order, those disloyal to our cause, more importantly those who serve a master and not the Vatican."
An underground room
The makeshift dungeon had a temperature that could be accurately be described as freezing, and the stone floor only made it worst. None of the people in the room were allowed to touch each other, destroying any chance of shared body heat. With the exceptions of the guards, everyone was seated on the floor, curled up into themselves. Some of them were shivering, trying to get more comfortable even with their hands and feet bound. Reever didn't know whether or not he was lucky to get a spot against the wall. His back was freezing just touching it, but at least that meant he could lean on something.
His fellow prisoners were spread across the room, watched closely by the guards Malcolm had handpicked. Just in case the prisoners might begin plotting something, everyone was placed at a certain distance from each other so that should they talk it would be made obvious. At first there had been plans to gag them, but for some reason the guards chose not to bother. Maybe they sympathized, maybe they thought the prisoners posed no threat, maybe they were lazy, who knows.
Political prisoners, that's what Reever and the others in this room were. After all, their only crime had been association with Komui, who was now deemed a traitor and heretic. The man had abandoned them, had deserted the Black Order and joined a Noah. At least that was what Malcolm was saying, another version had been that Komui was kidnapped, and Reever believed in the latter.
So far, none of the political prisoners blamed Komui, but if they remained in their current situation they might. Others will continue to blame Malcolm. After all, some of them had protested about the rules Malcolm was creating, but there hadn't been any violence until the guards began to arrest them. That was when some of the prisoners had fought against the guards, but they were beaten and overpowered. Reever had been pretty impressed with Jeryy, it took several guards to take him down because the chef fought with everything he had. It was also because of this reason that the man was one of those who were beaten most.
After they were subdued, the guards had blindfolded them all and transported them out of the Tower. After all, it wouldn't do if the Exorcists, Komui, or someone else decided to 'rescue' the new prisoners. They were taken to the boats and to what might have been some property owned by the Black Order. Reever didn't know, he was blindfolded and spun around so many times he lost all sense of direction. He did realize he was led indoors, then underground. That was when some of the prisoners fought the guards again, Johnny and Tapp fought with something akin to desperate panic, but the short scuffle didn't last long and once again they were subdued. With each step down the temperature dropped, until it was practically freezing. The blindfolds came off after they were all bound again and forced to sit on the ground. The guards told them that if they thought of moving or escaping, the punishment would be severe.
They were to be used as an exchange. After Komui disappeared with the Noah, Malcolm had accurately predicted that he was at the Roswell mansion. Reever overheard from the guards that Komui had agreed to give the Black Order information about the hybrid Akuma in exchange for the lives of his subordinates. Reever shook his head, it was obvious Malcolm would never let them out alive. They knew too much about the Black Order; releasing them to the public was a risk.
No, there was a pretty good chance Reever and all the other prisoners were to die in the Black Order. Komui was a fool to believe otherwise.
When dawn came, Komui was ready. Alfredo had generously given him some information about the projects Komui had once helped in, although half of them were most likely incomplete or fake. The first few however were accurate, Komui didn't want to push his luck too far when Reever and so many others depended on this information. Now he sat by the phone, waiting for Malcolm's call. Earlier he had insisted that Alfredo retreat so that they could both rest, but Komui hadn't been able to sleep. He was worried about Reever, silently grieving about Linali, cursing Cross, cursing himself for being so stupid, mentally reviewing what Tina had said, and conjuring just how many ways the Black Order might be going downhill.
The phone rang, and Komui immediately picked up, "Hello?"
"I trust you have the information prepared?" Malcolm's voice came out just as expected. Komui's hand tightened into fists.
"Yes, now put Reever on the line!"
"Good, I want you to head to the out to the Regional Hospital, near the Marquis' park. Bring all your documents in a suitcase, and come alone. I will give you further information there." The line was cut off, cursing, Komui picked up the prepared suitcase and headed to the door. To his surprise, he saw Alfredo waiting for him at the front doors.
"Are you ready?"
"I'm supposed to go alone, they might have someone watching."
"Of course," Alfredo approached his protégé, and when he was close enough, he slipped something into Komui's pocket. Even without seeing it Komui recognized what it was, and the Noah leaned down to whisper in his ear, "Just in case."
"They want the information, not a dead body."
"No, they might break their word, it could be dangerous."
Komui turned to look at the man, "You speak as if you yourself won't be somehow supervising the transaction."
"Like I said, just in case, it's better safe then sorry." Alfredo opened the door, letting the smaller man leave. He watched as Komui got into the carriage Alfredo had readied for him, and as the carriage began to move so did Alfredo's shadow. Three black shapes escaped from Alfredo's shadow and slid across the street to the carriage's. They mended perfectly into the carriage's shadow, and for one brief second glowing eyes glittered dangerously, before fading into black.
After Miranda finished her mission with Cloud the once-depressed Exorcist had gone back home to the Tower. Cloud however had continued with her travelling, hoping to hear rumours of Innocence, or one she was carrying to synchronize with another. On a whim, she had gone to Andorra. The isolated, mountainous area made it difficult for her to contact the Black Order, and as a result she didn't know too much about what had been happening. Her Finders had to make repeated trips to places of international communications just to establish contact, and last they heard Daisya was missing and there were some inspectors from the Vatican, but otherwise nothing.
Most of the Black Order had never been to the small country, but Cloud had decided to visit on the off chance she might find something. The country had plenty of Akuma, but there seemed to be no Innocence around. Still, she remained to fight the Akuma and help the surviving population. Her Finders were uneasy about the place, but followed her orders obediently.
Said Finders were currently staying inside a church while their General had gone off to another fight. She had left sometime in the middle of the night, telling her Finders to remain. They had waited but their General did not return, so they spent the night there. Now the Finders huddled together, trying to comfort themselves as a storm raged outside the church. Thunder roared and lightning flashed, rain slapped everything viciously as the wind howled. It was one of the worst storms, and as the Finders waited uneasily for their General to return, they were suddenly plunged into darkness.
"What was that?"
"Have the Akuma arrived?"
Just as the Finders and the clergy started to grow worried, a series of taps came from the front doors. The church had been barricaded for the night, both with physical bolts and the power of talisman. More then enough Akuma had started attacking after Cloud's uniform became known in the area, so the General told them it was best they took all measures to protect themselves and the church they were staying in. At nights, the protective measures were always set, as the clergy didn't expect anyone to come until morning. Now however, a voice muffled by the storm came, "Help me, please…Finders…"
"Who's there?" One of the clergy called out, cautious.
"It's me…help, please…"
"That voice sounds familiar….hey, isn't that Daisya's voice?" A Finder exclaimed, and the rest of their eyes widened.
"No way! Exorcist, is that really you? How did you end up all the way here in Andorra?" One by one, the Finders abandoned their caution as they began heading to the doors. Daisya's faint answer came through.
"I managed…to get away, they were taking me somewhere, I escaped but was injured…my Innocence, Charity Bell was…please, let me in."
"Hang on, Exorcist, we'll…"
"Wait!" One of the Finders cried out, "You can't open the door, remember what the General told us?! We have to stay inside and barricade anyone from leaving or coming in!"
"What are you talking about? It's a missing Exorcist, we have to open the door!"
"Yea, he's right!"
"Wait, don't! NO!"
As soon as the door was unlocked it was flung back so hard it bounced back against the walls. Wind and rain blew into the church while the Finders gasped and screamed. In the rain stood a boy, unaffected by the weather. "D-Daisya, sir?"
"No," a soft voice answered as a flash of lightning illuminated the boy. A boy who was dressed in an Arabian fashion instead of the Exorcist jacket stood there, and in his hand was what seemed to be a winged golem. The Finder's eyes widened in terrified horror, Black Order golems could record voices… "Not an Exorcist, I'm afraid."
Akuma suddenly appeared beside the boy, crawling out of the shadows and emerging from the rain. The Finders could only scream as the monsters entered the church. They tried to fight back, they tried to ready their talismans, but were ultimately overpowered. It was a complete slaughter, the Finders and clergy were mowed down like grass. Pentagons covered the skin of the people and the structures of the church, poisoning them and reducing them to dust.
In the midst of it all a Finder managed to escape the church that was quickly becoming a tomb. As he stumbled out into the rain, blinded and in pain, he bumped into the Arabian-clothed boy. The smaller person didn't even flinch, but the weakened Finder fell to his knees in front of the stranger.
"Help me…my friends…the church…my General…"
Something flickered in the boy's eyes, before it was drowned again in emptiness.
Park behind the Regional Hospital, Britain
The carriage dropped Komui off at the designated area, and Komui walked forward to the plains, grasping his suitcase. Though the hospital had people moving in and out, the park itself was mostly empty. Komui followed a well worn path, lined with flowers and the occasional tree. When he passed by the seventh, there was some rustling, and a winged golem emerged from the branches to where Komui was. Malcolm's voice emitted, "Follow the golem."
Komui obeyed, the golem led him further down the path to where the trees grew denser together. Their shadows mixed as the sunlight was reduced to rays peeping through leaves, and the golem finally stopped under one of the thicker trees. A large wooden crate was placed beside it.
"There's a key hanging from one of the branches, climb on top of the crate to retrieve it."
Komui squinted, and spotted the key hanging from one of the branches. If Malcolm hadn't pointed it out Komui would have missed it completely, the key's and ribbon's colour blended well with its surrounding. Setting his suitcase aside, Komui stepped on top of the crate, untied the ribbon, and stepped down with the key in his hand. The golem flew down to the crate and nudged at a lock.
"Unlock the crate," Malcolm ordered, Komui did so, and found a bucket of water, a bag of clothing, a wig, a hat, and another suitcase. "Put all the documents you're carrying into the suitcase in the crate." Komui's lips curled unpleasantly, Malcolm was taking no risks was he? The plain, ordinary suitcase was common, if it got carried into a crowd no one would take a second glance at it. He switched the documents from his suitcase to the one provided, and once he finished his next order came: "Take the bucket of water and pour it over your head."
"That's a condition you'll have to follow if you want to see your subordinates again."
The seemingly ridiculous order quickly made sense to the Supervisor, this was to test whether he had anything on him. Well, except for what Alfredo had slipped on him, nothing of importance. For one moment Komui worried that the object might be revealed, and had to assure himself that Alfredo had placed it strategically. Picking up the bucket, he lifted it up and poured it over himself. Cold water splashed and slid down his body, luckily Komui noticed that despite his soaked clothing the jacket he wore was thick enough to conceal the shape of Alfredo's little gift.
Had he or any observer paid more attention, they would have noticed Komui's shadow shiver on its own. The shivering ceased right away, and it was as if nothing had happened. Komui himself waited for a few seconds before the next order came.
"Put the bucket, as well as the suitcases, back in the crate, and then take out the bag of clothing and the wig." Komui had a good idea what was the next step, and sure enough, "Lock the crate. Take the clothing, wig and hat back to the hospital and change into it, when you are finished return with your clothing and put it back in this crate. Take out the suitcase with the documents and head back to the hospital, I will give you further orders then. Make sure to wear the wig." That last order was no doubt to conceal his dark hair amidst a country mostly consisting of blonds. Komui went inside the hospital, changed, went back to the crate and switched the items he was carrying. After locking the crate again, a blonde man in a casual suit and hat returned to the hospital, carrying a suitcase.
Once he stepped back inside, he waited a few more seconds before the golem – now hidden underneath his hat – spoke again, "A few of the hospital staff are leaving, I want you to blend in among them. Afterwards get on another carriage." Sure enough as soon as the words were said, several men stepped into the hallway, chattering and expressing relief about the end of their shift. Komui followed them silently, his clothing and blond hair allowed himself to blend in easily. He followed the group down a street and around a corner before he finally got onto another carriage.
"Where to, sir?"
"Tell him to go the train station."
"The train station, please," Komui answered, and the carriage left. There was a brief silence as Komui wondered whether Alfredo had been able to continue supervising him with his disguised appearance, had the Noah spotted him when Komui blended among the hospital staff, or had he already lost him when Komui went inside the hospital to change? Could Malcolm's preparations throw off Alfredo?
No, no, of course not. Malcolm was, in the end, human – but Alfredo wasn't. Besides, Komui thought as he slipped a hand in his pocket, if things turned for the worst he still had Alfredo's gift on him.
The carriage arrived to its destination, and after Komui paid the fee he stepped inside the train station. Right away he stepped into the crowds of people, leaving and entering, waiting and looking, shouting farewells and welcomes. Amidst all the noise he almost missed Malcolm's voice. "Your subordinates were removed from the Black Order Tower and imprisoned in some of our outside property. In exchange for the suitcase of documents you now hold, you will be given their address. After the exchange, if you follow the address you will find them bound and possibly gagged, but unharmed. The Black Order and you will have no more attachments, is that understood?"
"Yes," Komui answered.
"Good, now head up to the second floor. There's a fake identification card in the pocket of your jacket, it will give you access to the staff only room. Once you get inside, there's a deck that overlooks the coming trains. There's one leaving soon, and one of my men will be there. He will give you the address when you give him the suitcase, now go."
Komui had already searched the pockets earlier, so he simply retrieved the card and went upstairs to the second floor. The Staff Only door was unlocked, and when he opened it the people inside were too busy running back and forth to check his identity. Still, Komui kept a low profile as he headed to the deck, where the train was already blowing smoke as it prepared to leave. Komui waited as the train began to move, gathering speed. Then, a man in the Black Order guard uniform appeared, standing on the roof of one of the train compartments. He was standing straight despite the moving train, and as soon as he caught Komui's eye he held up a piece of paper tied to a rock. In response Komui held out his suitcase.
Just as the man passed the deck, Komui threw the suitcase over, and though it landed further from the man then expected, the man threw him the rock anyways. As the train rolled by, Komui rushed to where the rock had landed and detached the paper from the rock. The address of his subordinates' location, he would be going there right away to retrieve them. Reever, Jeryy, Johnny, Tapp and so many others…he would save them all. Eagerly he unfurled the piece of paper.
It was blank.
Komui's eyes widened, he looked up to see the man heading for the suitcase, and without thinking acted. The Chinese man ran forward and jumped over the deck, landing on the roof of one of the last train compartments. The guard heard him, for he turned around. Any other time Komui would have laughed at the look on the man's face, but right now he was too angry.
How dare he! Betrayed me…break his word…I'll kill him!
Ignoring the danger, high on adrenaline, Komui ran forward, eyes blazing with fury. Beneath his feet the train gathered speed, in front of him the guard ran towards the suitcase, no doubt wanting to secure that first before it fell. Komui chased after the man, and as the speed grew faster his hat fell off, followed shortly by his wig. Hearing the faint buzz of the golem's wings flapping, Komui seized the blasted thing and threw it forward at the guard.
The golem, no doubt also how Malcolm was keeping him under watch, was flung forward too fast for any words to come out. The device hit a bull's eye as it collided with the back of the guard's head, and the man fell forward, dazed. The little delay was enough for Komui to catch up, and he purposely stomped hard on the man's back.
Which was apparently enough to revitalize the man, because he grabbed Komui's leg and threw him down. The former Supervisor nearly fell off the train, but coordinated his body to fall forward instead. He made to get up, but a heavy blow struck him on the head, and he collapsed again. The guard got up to his knees and rained blows on Komui, who could only lift his hands up to defend himself. "You don't get it, do you, you traitorous supervisor?! We can't let you or your heretic friends live! You'll all just betray us and work with the Noah against righteousness!"
"Get off me! Don't you dare touch me!" Komui screamed, and as if in response his shadow moved. From the corner of Komui's eyes he saw his shadow expand, saw three pairs of glowing eyes and fanged mouths, before they launched forward up to his attacker. The man screamed in horror and pain when three black, blob like creatures launched themselves at him, sinking sharp teeth into tender flesh.
While the Black Order member was distracted, Komui coughed and got up. His body was screaming in pain, Malcolm sure knew how to pick strong guards, but he was still high on adrenaline and he moved forward quickly to the suitcase. Behind him he saw the guard tearing the Alfredo's shadow monsters from his skin and throwing them off the train, and Komui moved quicker.
If Malcolm won't give me Reever and the others, why the hell should I give him the notes, fake as they are?
A sudden weight suddenly smashed itself onto Komui's back, and he screamed. It was as if his spine was injured, the pain was terrible. A hand grabbed his hair and smashed Komui's face onto the roof of the train, again and again. "You don't deserve to live! Traitor!"
Why the hell should I follow his conditions, his rules?
"Just die already!"
Why should I believe him? Why should I play the nice guy?
"And burn in hell!"
Why should I tolerate being treated like this?
"Whore for a Noah!"
Why am I even tolerating his subordinates?
The man let out a snarl of pain when Komui's hand struck his face, fingers striking his eyes. As he drew back, Komui used the increased space to give the man a hard kick. This time the guard roared in pain as he pulled back completely, and Komui scrambled forward. The man had a hand over one of his eyes, but the other quickly looked at Komui when they heard a sharp click.
The former Supervisor of the Black Order was sitting just a foot or so away from him. There was blood dripping down from the side of his forehead, but the Chinese man was calm. In his hands was a gun, the business end pointed straight at the Order's guard. Alfredo's little gift, 'just in case'.
"At another time, I would have asked for your name," Komui began as suddenly, the shadow monsters returned and launched themselves onto the man. This time they changed shape, became rope-like, holding the man in place. "But right now I'm too mad at Malcolm, and want to go straight to plotting his downfall."
Without another word, Komui pulled the trigger. A shadow monster swallowed the Black Order golem whole. No one heard the last scream of the Black Order guard. Below them, the train moved on.
Black Order Tower
"No!" Linali screamed as she shot up from her bed, her hand outstretched in front of her. "Brother, no!"
"Linali!" Hands were around her immediately, trying to still her struggling, "Linali, calm down!" But she couldn't, her dreams were so vivid, so terrifying and while it might have been unrealistic once upon a time now that she knew of Komui's history she knew they could be true. Her loving fool of a brother covered in his own blood and those of others, she couldn't stop screaming. "Linali, it's a dream!"
"No, brother, don't do it! I'm sorry, don't leave! Don't go back to him! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
"Linali, wake up!"
Kanda's sharp voice cut through her thoughts, and the visions disappeared. She found herself back in the Black Order, a nurse at one side, Allen and Kanda on the other. Her brother wasn't around, Komui wasn't here…Komui was with the Noah. She lowered her hands and dropped her head, but her body was still trembling.
"It's okay, Linali, it was just a dream…"
"No," Linali's frame trembled. "It…it wasn't just a dream, it was my brother, he was…he killed…"
There was nothing that Allen and the others could say about Komui, they had no idea where he was or what he was doing. Personally Allen was already surprised that Alfredo actually cared for someone. It was well known within the Noah circles that the man was at odds even with his own family. Allen was going to have to look into that, the potential of Alfredo worrying about a human was a liability that was just asking to be exploited…
And his thoughts screeched to a halt, as Allen cursed himself for thinking those thoughts. It was Komui, for all his eccentricities the man cared for them, and unless Alfredo managed to turn his protégé back into a backstabbing manipulative person Allen wasn't going to do anything against his former supervisor unless he was under orders again. He couldn't say the same for Kanda, who now knew the Chinese man was the one who tore him from his family and cursed him into a life of war.
Knowing Kanda, things could get ugly.
Knowing Tiki…Allen suddenly realized if the Noah was watching him when he first kissed Kanda, he was probably also watching when Alfredo first attacked the Tower. When Tiki arrived to Allen's conclusions, that Komui was a liability to Alfredo's flawless defence…things could get even uglier. Allen sincerely hoped that Tiki wouldn't try anything against Komui, a human could never hope to win against a Noah.
He watched as Kanda showed a rare side of concern as he coaxed Linali to relax. The trembling girl eventually relaxed under Kanda's touch, and with the nurse's bidding went back to sleep. When her breathing evened out, the nurse shooed Allen away, telling him that despite his lack of injuries he still need to sleep after the Akuma attack interrupted the night. Kanda, however, was forced to stay in the medical wing so that the nurse could keep an eye on his condition – "And if you get off the bed one more time, young man, I'll strap you down!" – Allen was more then a little amused at how easily Kanda obeyed the nurse's demands, earning him a scowl. So when the nurse looked away, the white haired boy leaned down and brushed his lips over Kanda's cheek.
"Get well soon, but don't try to use the curse, okay? I want to spend as much time as I can with you."
And Kanda could only agree. In the past he didn't care that the curse shortened his life, as long as he recovered from battle he was fine. He lived minute by minute with no care of the future. Now he had something to live for, something more personal to fight for. He could no longer so carelessly give up his life or do anything to compromise it.
Of course, he rethought that when Allen left the wing and Lavi slowly emerged from the shadows with a huge grin on his face.
"So," Lavi grinned at the scowling Japanese Exorcist, "So."
Kanda would dearly love to say 'So what?' but that was unbefitting of his character, so he remained silent. It did nothing to defer Lavi, who continued grinning. "Now, Yu, do you have anything you wish to say to me?"
"Go to hell," Kanda deadpanned. Lavi shook his head.
"Nuh uh, Yu, no can do. Not after what I just happened to see as I was passing by!" Lavi plopped his elbows on Kanda's bed, looking at the Japanese boy's eyes closely. "So, is it official? Are you two together now? Innocent sweet Allen and dark heartless Kanda…"
"Don't be stupid," Kanda snapped. "Official? It can't be official unless we want to get banished or burned at the stake."
"It's unlikely we'll burn Exorcists to the stake," Lavi corrected, but he had stopped grinning. He himself was happy for his friends, but he knew others might not be so accepting. Malcolm was a fundamentalist; he would never accept what he will see as sodomy. Even if they were limited in how they may punish an Exorcist, there were plenty of effective ways still. "Maybe they'll keep you two on separate missions all the time, or try to take one of you away from the other, or…"
"Take him away from me?" A thought suddenly entered Kanda's mind, and he sat up in surprise. Lavi blinked, confused.
Kanda's eyes narrowed dangerously, "That's right. Earlier today…"
"You mean last night," Lavi pointed out, Kanda ignored it.
"…Several Level Three Akuma came back to the Tower." Kanda's lips curled as Lavi's eyes widened. "The thing was, they didn't even try to attack me. Bean sprout and I were standing right by the hole in Komui's chambers, it would have been easy for them to simply attack us in one blow. Instead, they chose to take Bean sprout and flee. Not one bullet, not one attack, was spared for me, the way the Akuma acted were as if they were under time restraints; they wanted to leave as soon as possible."
"Did Allen escape?" Lavi asked, concern laced in his voice, "or did you rescue him?"
"I went after him, but he managed to escape and return. I didn't think about it at the time, but the question is, why did the Akuma want to take him away?" Kanda folded his arms, eyes narrowed. "What you've just said just opened several possibilities, aside from the Black Order, who else might want to take him away? What is the one thing about Allen that the Order has been curious about but never got the answer to?"
"Why his hair's white?"
"Be serious," Kanda snapped. "No, it's his background, why he is under one of the inspectors' personal inspection: The fact that he was found in a nest of Akuma and with the Noah. Put that into context, and it seems as if…"
"The Noahs want him back," Lavi finished, and all joy he had about Kanda and Allen was replaced by worry as he realized that the Black Order would not be the only people making the relationship difficult.
Though her appearance was still as flawless as ever, Harry could tell with one look that Lulubell had not slept. He didn't have time to question her. Work kept them both busy as the two of them went through meetings and paperwork. He would have liked to meet her at lunch, but a colleague told him that she was meeting with another client. So he arranged for a lunch appointment with some of his colleagues.
He did manage to briefly chat with her during a coffee break, and she asked him about the new partner he signed a deal with. Harry told her that part of the success was due to him helping their partner design a device, and curious, she asked to see. At first Harry was hesitant, but after a series of Lulubell's convincing ideas about learning and curiosity – and she will never admit, a great deal of pouting – Harry agreed. He only had the rough drafts, and told her he'll let her see if they were free after work.
She agreed right away. Hours later one of Harry's colleagues will tell him that Gilbert managed to find a company to design his rather questionably obtained low-powered device.
And at a distant hotel, Gwen played the video Cail's golem had recorded. It had recorded Komui's last moments in the Black Order perfectly. Komui stumbling to the phone and contacting Alfredo; Tina, as per Gwen's demand, delivering the warning to Komui; but Gwen was shocked when the Tower was attacked and Cross revealed his plans to Komui. Alfredo had entered, and after a brief conversation, Cross destroyed any illusion she may had about the General caring about the Supervisor. The man had thrown Komui forward to distract the Noah, before making his own escape. The shock had stunned Komui enough that he didn't resist when Alfredo decided to leave. Gwen felt the same.
"Cross used Komui, didn't he?" Gwen's voice was dry, "That bastard."
When Linali arrived to the scene, she was no match for the Noah, who simply ordered his shadow monsters to throw her aside like a rag doll. The collision had shaken the already weakened foundation of the room, and the roof caved in on top of the female Exorcist. Lavi and Suman rushed into the scene, but even they couldn't stop Alfredo from escaping with Komui. The clip ended after Linali was carried away, leaving Gwen frowning. She had no plans to destroy the Black Order, far from it, but at the rate things were going the Black Order won't last long.
Meanwhile, Alfredo's shadow monsters brought the injured Komui back to his mansion. Alfredo looked at the suitcase of information that Komui had retrieved after the failed deal, listening as Komui bitterly explained what happened and angrily ranted about the inspectors not keeping their end of the deal. He didn't seem too bothered that he had just shot someone, or that the person had once been his own subordinate. He was too angry, and too upset that he now knew no matter his actions Reever and the others will never escape the situation alive. They might already be dead, Malcolm never allowed Komui to hear Reever's voice the whole time the deal was brokered.
"If that's the case, it's time we upped the stakes a bit." Alfredo finally commented as the private doctor who he hired to treat Komui's forehead wound left. Alfredo had remained silent as the doctor worked, but now that he was gone, Alfredo began speaking his thoughts. "If your subordinates and friends have already been killed, then we'll force the inspector to know that feeling, when he's never sure when someone might kill him."
"What do you mean?" Komui asked as he gingerly touched the bandages wrapped around his forehead. Malcolm was going to pay for this wound, that guard wasn't enough…
"This room, Komui, isn't the only thing I've set to wait for your return." Alfredo's lips curled, "All your bank accounts, shares, bonds, and other finance-related projects have been kept under your name, I've simply been handling them. You have enough cash to cause some conflict within the Black Order."
"You're telling me to bribe someone for something?"
"No, no, I already have a few spies for that. They're a bit weak, but let's spread the desire for Malcolm's head outside of them." It was debatable whether it was comforting or not, that Alfredo was thinking exactly what Komui did back when he first plotted for Malcolm's downfall. After Tina had told him her feelings and guided him towards more plotting, an idea had entered Komui's mind. It had been dismissed because Komui had not been too sure about his finances, but if Alfredo had left it as it, allowing it to accumulate years of interest…
As the last Akuma was dashed into pieces General Cloud Nine turned to look for the last person that must be dealt with. A broker selling out people's souls to the Millennium Earl, they were some of the people the Black Order explicitly ordered to be killed. She managed to catch on to the broker in town, and in the chase for him had run into several more Akuma. Nothing she couldn't handle, but they were a hindrance. So were the rain and dark skies, come to think of it. Currently she was going up another small hill, as that was where the broker's home was, and she only thanked her Innocence for being sentient and able to carry her up. Loathe as she was to admit it, her body could only tolerate so much.
When they arrived to the top, she stopped, for the broker was sitting comfortably on patio furniture, enjoying the stormy weather under a large, brightly coloured umbrella. On the table beside him was a pair of binoculars and a book. The cold didn't appear to bother him as the man was dressed like for any other day, and as she approached he peered up at her almost good-naturally through his glasses. "Good day, General, I see you still haven't given up chasing me."
Cloud didn't say anything, she knew if she did she might weaken or provide the man an opportunity to escape. Just as she prepared to kill him, the broker spoke again. "Are you sure you have time to be hanging around here, general?"
Cloud paused, "What do you mean?"
"I can wander around as I please because as a broker that might give me a chance to stumble upon potential victims, but what about you?" The man took a sip of the hot drink he held in his hand, Cloud couldn't see what it was but the steam coming from it showed it was hot. The man continued talking as he placed the drink on the table, "You abandoned your duty as an Exorcist, and now you're here, leaving behind the Finders you should protect. Do you know what's going on at the church right now?"
Had it been Cross or Winters, they would have simply laughed off the comment because Finders were meant only for support and no one would care if they died. Cloud, like Tiedoll and Yeegar would have, felt worry and fear clench her heart. "What have you done?!"
"The perimeter around the church has disappeared, meaning there was a breach in security." With a gesture of his hand, the broker indicated to the binoculars he had by him. "The intruder, or intruders, has barricaded themselves in. Well, one of them left, but I wonder how the original occupants of the church are now." Cloud blanched as she looked at the direction of the church and saw the missing glow. "Oh, don't panic and leave now, no need to get ahead of yourself. You'll find out soon enough when you get there…no, it may be over by the time you get there."
Ignoring every protocol the Black Order had set for situations like this, Cloud turned and ordered her Innocence to run back to the church. As she flew back distances, crashing pass trees and jumping over rooftops, she thought she heard the broker's mocking laughter follow her. She knew it was just her imagination, that she was moving too fast to hear anything but wind and rain, yet the laughing followed her, changing to the laughter of another's.
"Praying won't help you," the Level Three told the cowering girl, who was clinging to the priest as he muttered words from the bible he held. "Real demons don't fear God, there's nothing that we fear. All of you will soon be our dinner and help us evolve!"
If anything happened to the church, anything like that time…
"My, my, what's the rush, Little Cloud?"
If the Akuma attacked on holy ground, and she failed to save the people there...
"After you turn to dust, I'll put you in a jar and give it to your brother. He should be more then pleased with me!"
Outside, the church looked unharmed, but the glow was missing and the doors wouldn't open, so Cloud smashed right through them. Flinging what remained of the doors open; she took one look at the scene and knew she was too late. Nevertheless, none of the Akuma inside survived as she made them pay for polluting the church. The General was only briefly aware that after she'd dealt with the Akuma, she tracked down the escaping broker – who had underestimated the time it would take for her to finish the Akuma – and killed him.
Black Order Tower
"Miranda! Is it true? Were you attacked by a Finder who might have been an impostor?" The Exorcist looked up as two Finders ran up to her, pale-faced and worried. The two stopped to catch their breath before the same one continued, "This is getting worst, what's going to happen to the Black Order? With Malcolm's new orders and impostors around, lurking around our medic wing and ready to strike any moment…"
"Wait," Miranda began, "I didn't tell anyone about the attack! How did you know?"
"What do you mean? It was a Finder who was with you in your last mission, he's at the dining hall as we speak…"
Horrified, Miranda ran to the Black Order cafeteria. By the time she arrived, a group of Black Order members were already surrounding a Finder named Hiko, a skinny but tall man who was speaking. "It's a fact, they took over the Order a long time ago, heck, the person standing next to you could be an impostor loyal to the Noah."
"No way, that's impossible!"
"How is it impossible?" Hiko asked. "We're talking about an organization that would easily turn a blind eye on our members' activities as long as they prove useful to us. Look at Komui, until we learned the Arks had a Noah all the charges Komui had about those Arks experiments never meant anything to the Black Order as long as Komui helped our Science Department. Look at Malcolm, that man is almost as guilty as Komui in the murder of his experimental human subjects, but the Black Order does nothing!"
"Don't push your luck, Hiko!" One of the guards present grabbed Hiko by the throat, obviously one of those handpicked by Malcolm to keep 'order'. "Do you want to get arrested and beaten up?!"
"Keep your filthy hands off me!" In an amazing feat of strength for his skinny figure, Hiko threw the guard across the room and against a table, which crumpled under the force. Gasps escaped all those present, and the shocked guard looked up as Hiko approached him. "Remember how you pushed me around before? I know exactly what it feels like, but I restrained myself. Now however…" Hiko's eyes glowed purple, signalling something terribly wrong with him, "There's no point, and I can return all the things you've ever done to me. All the time I've been forced to slave under the Black Order will be repaid in blood."
"He's an imposter!"
Hiko laughed, but then noticed the Exorcist in the room, "Well, well, Miranda, you're a brave one aren't you? We beat up that Vatican cur right in front of you and indirectly told you to leave, but you remain, loyal until the end, hum?"
"Hiko…" Miranda remembered this Finder, he had been with her in her last mission with Cloud. He had been such a helpful, kind person too. "How could you…why?"
"Why?" Hiko flexed his fingers, unnaturally calm as his eyes continued to glow purple. "This is who I really am, I acted as the meek Hiko to gather information and work behind the scenes for my master. And you know what, if any of us could kill an Exorcist, surely we will be rewarded!" Hiko flew forward, hand outstretched towards Miranda, but suddenly a black shadow dove forward. There was a sharp swishing of a cloak, and Hiko was thrown back to the ground. He let out a snarl as he looked up to see Aleister standing in front of Miranda.
"You fool," Aleister hissed. "Attacking us right in the Black Order, surely you do not believe you can escape alive!"
"We've already been prepared for that, so it won't matter!" Hiko pounced, and Aleister grabbed Miranda before jumping out of the way. He left her with the Finders as he flew forward towards what he guessed was a modified Akuma, striking him down. Seizing Hiko by the collar, he sank his fangs viciously into the Akuma.
Hiko choked as he felt the blood trained out of him, and retaliated by kneeling Aleister on the stomach. Before he could try a more vicious attack, Aleister smashed his head against the wall. There was a sharp crack, and Hiko cried out. Before Aleister could do anything else Hiko's hand shot forward, distracting the Exorcist for one second. That was enough for Hiko to tear himself from Aleister's grasp, but just as he began to run from the door Lavi appeared.
"You're not getting away!" The hammer smashed forward, narrowly missing Hiko's head. Hiko jumped up, somehow managing to land on all fours upright against a wall. If there was any doubt he wasn't human, it disappeared the moment the audience saw Hiko's suddenly webbed hands. Hiko jumped out of the way again as the Hammer came forward, and nearly collided with Aleister in his battle form.
"Kukuku, no longer fighting now?" The vampire-like Exorcist's fangs flew forward, but missed, only tearing strands of hair as Hiko dived to another section of the wall. Seeing Lavi dash forward towards him, Hiko turned and jumped right out the window; smashing through glass and disappearing over the ledge.
Aleister rushed forward and looked out the window, Hiko was nowhere in sight. Lavi however noticed a familiar butterfly nearby. It's that Noah! Cursing, the Bookman apprentice turned and rushed to his room, where he knew Tiki would be.
Tiki was not having a good day. He had been watching Allen these days, waiting for when he would take the Sphere of Shades back, but last night the Black Order had all been awake the whole time. Allen refused to give in his Noah side so soon, and spent the night training to regain his Innocence. Had he just chose to turn Noah, it was less likely Allen could return to the Black Order so Tiki had been hoping for that path, going as far as tearing Allen's arm away from him. To watch Allen train so tirelessly for it annoyed him, and Alfredo's little attack on the Black Order to seize Komui did nothing to help. Tiki was kicking himself for not seeing connection between Komui and Alfredo (2). He had long warned Lavi that the Supervisor was suspicious, that it was unknown how the man got his information, to know now it had been Alfredo giving it out drove Tiki mad.
When Allen finally retrieved the Sphere, Tiki had all but dragged the boy away from the Japanese Exorcist, more then intent on breaking the moment. Allen tried to lie to him afterwards, the old Allen would never think of doing such a deed. Tiki had been more then inclined to go and rip that Japanese Exorcist's heart out, and he saw his chance when Kanda ran out searching for Allen, but Rhode had stopped him before he could move. Instead he was forced to watch as Allen went back to Kanda, and though at first tried to stop anything from happening, ultimately gave in.
As the man's gloved hands curled together in anger, the doors of the room he was currently in burst open. Lavi stormed in, closing the doors behind him. Tiki forced himself to relax as the redhead whirled around to look at him, the one green eye blazing. The Noah raised an eyebrow, "You're in a worse mood then usual."
"It's those imposters!" Lavi hissed angrily, his Innocence went back to a large size as Lavi used it to point accusingly at the Noah seated on his couch. "What are they doing here, what are they trying to do here?"
"I told you before, that we have spies in the Black Order." Tiki answered calmly, "So why are you so upset? They really just report information to us. We can't send in true Akuma or your gatekeepers will detect them. Our spies only have the slightest hint of dark matter in them to enforce their loyalty; they're no threat to you physically."
"No threat?" Lavi couldn't believe his ears. "They're on your side, they are a threat! What's more, they just tried to attack the Exorcists! That's a threat if they're capable of even trying to hurt us!"
"I admit, perhaps we should do a better job at keeping them in control, they're getting arrogant if they're starting to attack," Or is Alfredo telling his spies to act? Tiki thought. "In any case, you must understand that if they can attack so easily you should perhaps improve your security."
"For someone who claims to have spies in the Black Order, you should know that's exactly what those Vatican inspectors are claiming to do!" Lavi spat. "And look at the results! So many arrested and imprisoned who knows where! They didn't even get a trial, and who knows the conditions of those so called prisons!"
"These are dangerous times, your inspectors are justified in attacking first and asking questions later…"
"Heh," Lavi sneered. "I never thought I'll see the day when the Noah will justify the Black Order, or do you mean you're justified in just taking what you want? In this case, Allen?"
Tiki's eyes narrowed, "What are you talking about?"
"I heard all about it. Allen was taken by some Level Threes earlier today, but he managed to escape and return. You need more then a few Level Threes to challenge Allen when his synchronization rate is in the nineties and so close to General status." Lavi's voice grew mocking when he saw the sour look on Tiki's face. "You want to take him back, don't you?"
"I think you're forgetting something, Lavi, but if it wasn't for me Allen would never be here. Several months ago, if I haven't given you the information about his location, or my permission to take him, Allen would never join the Black Order. I could easily kill four non-General Exorcists by myself, at that time I simply chose not to. Do you want to test me right now?"
"I don't need to do anything!" Lavi spat, "Allen has already given consent to being here, he enjoys it here, or he would have been trying to escape already. Quite frankly, you have no need in dropping by the tower so frequently. He won't be so easily convinced to return to you! And if you go around, killing people he cares for to let out steam, you'll only isolate him from you even more!"
"I don't need you to tell me what I can do!" Tiki's temper snapped at Lavi's reminders. They were more real then the redhead realized, which only served to anger Tiki even more. "And tell me, what do you know about the relationship between Allen and I? Nothing! So don't go around acting so righteous on his behalf, you know nothing. Thinking of asking him? That shows you're distrustful, you don't believe him, you don't trust him, you're holding the fact that he once associated with a Noah against him. I wonder how he would react, he if could hear you now! At least the decisions I make are for his benefit!"
"I knew you were too good to be true!" Lavi shot back, "You claim not to force anyone into anything, but listen to what you're saying! The decisions you make are for his benefit? You're deciding Allen's life without giving him a choice! Is this how you usually deal with people? You threaten the people around me all the time, threaten me all the time, how is it any different from actually forcing me? From forcing Allen to have no choice but to return to you? I wonder at times whether there are more people in the Black Order under your influence! We are not toys, to be kept at your side because you don't want to share!"
"I've never once treated you as a prisoner," Tiki hissed.
"No, you simply enjoy watching the show after you set us up, so what are we to you, experiments?"
The blow was harsher then Tiki intended, because it threw Lavi to the floor. Stunned, the Bookman Apprentice touched his stinging cheek, staring up at the Noah who had suddenly moved in front of him. Tiki's gaze was furious as he stared down at the younger man.
"Don't talk as if you know everything, more importantly, don't use words you don't know the significance of. I take pains to precisely avoid seeing someone interesting as an experiment. Do not compare me to Roswell! Do not….!" The Noah trailed off as he stared down at Lavi. The boy's expression glared up at him, and it was too familiar.
The situation eerily reflected how Allen had first reacted against him when he found out Tiki was a Noah.
And having Lavi glare at him so hatefully, it sent an unpleasant feeling in Tiki's normally non-existent Noah heart. Almost right away he regretted striking the Bookman Apprentice, but he wasn't in his white form, the Pleasure of Noah did not apologize. Gritting his teeth, he turned away, "Do not presume you know me so well."
He had to get out, before his own frustrations took over and he lashed out against the redhead, before he did something he might or may not regret later. Polished shoes tapping sharply against the floor, Tiki walked right through the wall and disappeared, leaving Lavi alone in the room. The boy stood up slowly, glaring at where Tiki had disappeared from.
"I may not know about your background," Lavi answered bitterly, "but I know more then enough about your personality."
Then Tiki's words registered in him, and Lavi blinked as he realized something. The Noahs were not as united as the Black Order had always thought, it seemed clear that Tiki held a dislike of Alfredo. In their previous encounters Tiki had once indicated that there were Noahs he didn't like, but he never gave any names. Sure, Tiki had been pretty ticked off when Alfredo had touched Lavi that time when they attended the fashion show, but Lavi had thought it was the act, and not the person, that drove Tiki mad. If Tiki didn't like Alfredo…
Maybe, just maybe, Lavi could use that to his advantage.
Garden of a mansion, Portugal
Toss, catch, toss, Rhode's dark eyes watched the Sphere of Shades go up in the sky and back down in her hand. The object she so carelessly bounced in her hand held so much significance, not just as one of Alfredo's experiments but as what might have caused Allen to grow attached to an Exorcist. Even if he didn't realize or admit it, Rhode had known that Allen was fond of the 'Kanda' boy even before the sphere came into the picture. Now thanks to the sphere there were more complications.
Allen's feelings were found to be reciprocated. The cold hearted Exorcist, one of the most dangerous of the group, was fond of Allen.
Cue in Tiki's protectionist/jealous feelings, and it was a dangerous situation. Skinn had observed the students of General Tiedoll before, he knew what they were like. When Rhode first asked about him, Skinn had no suspicions to her questions – either that or he didn't care – and told her all about Kanda. The boy was one of the strongest Exorcists and was likely to reach General status, had not the curse limited him. She was going to have to ask Alfredo about that.
Footsteps over the cobblestone path caught her attention, and she turned around. Two figures were approaching and one of them, a servant of the house, bowed to her, "Little mistress, you have a guest…"
"Eclipse!" Rhode jumped forward and wrapped her arms around the Noah, nearly knocking him down, "Hello!"
"Hello Rhode," Eclipse removed the First Child from himself with difficulty, as Rhode's fingers had woven through his long, dark hair. The gleam in one of her fists caught his attention. "What do you have in your hand?"
"One of Alfredo's experiments," Rhode grinned. "The Sphere of Shades, heard anything about it?"
"Unfortunately no, Alfredo has a tendency to keep his experiments under wraps until he is confident it is successful." Eclipse glanced at the orb in Rhode's hand, he could tell the item contained both light and dark matter, how they weren't destroying each other was a surprise. Then again, the theory had been well developed ever since they found Allen, the feat was not impossible to achieve, per say. Speaking of which… "Rhode, as much as I love to socialize, I must ask about Allen's condition."
"His condition?" Rhode blinked up at him innocently, for all appearances the sweet little child. The Noah carrying the memory of Nurture only nodded.
"The news just recently reached me, the incident about Allen's arm being torn off. I know for a fact that you've been keeping a watch on him, for reasons I will not ask about. Therefore, you are most likely to know about his condition. Midori reported to us before, that Allen once experienced an imbalance in his body that caused the light and dark side of him to fight. He managed to calm down, but with his Innocence being torn off, what became of his status? Surely the Noah side must have reacted…"
"Allen's fine now," Rhode interrupted. "He reclaimed his Innocence."
"Did he?" Eclipse looked only mildly surprised, but the man's composure had always been flawless. Rhode could tell by the Noah's eyes he reacted much more to the news then what his appearance displayed. "The Innocence did not reject his body? Allen managed to resynchronize without any problems?"
"He's stronger then ever," Rhode remembered the sight of Allen flying through the air, slaying Akuma with the ease a General had. "The Innocence accepted him and evolved into a more powerful form…those at the Black Order called him the Crown Clown. If he could get the Innocence back, he will survive."
"You know as well as I do, Rhode, that it is impossible." Eclipse's delivery was so infuriatingly calm that had Rhode been more like the girls her age, emotionally driven and more fitting for denial, she would have probably attacked him. "He will not last."
"No," Rhode's voice instead became almost just as deadly as his. "Allen earned my respect because of his wits and competence. He will not disappear, not so passively." The eyes of a girl who had seen too much stared up at Eclipse's with a confidence that defied everything everyone knew. "He will live."
Black Order Tower
After the Akuma attack on the Tower, the Generals were given a chance to relax. Tiedoll was thankful for the opportunity to catch up on his sleep and allow his body rest, so he went to his room straight away. Cross also disappeared from his desk, but neither was he in his room. The others dismissed it, knowing the General he was probably in the bedrooms of one of the female staff. It was one of the few times they were wrong.
"Well, this is almost disappointing," Cross puffed smoke out as he looked at the files in his hand. He was leaning back against a chair, his feet on the table, and papers spread all around him. Several candles surrounded the desk and usually empty room, the only source of light. It caused the shadows in the room to flicker, seemingly dangerous and full of secrets. Cross flipped another page, "Komui and the others don't seem to have made much progress on these shadow monsters, for someone so close with the Noah I would have expected more then this."
"Is that the only reason why you ever got together with him? Or was it simply to make your claim on Komui when you knew a Noah wanted him?" The voice came behind Cross, and the man's lips curled into his usual smirk as familiar footsteps approached him. From the shadows Allen emerged, gold glinting off his white hair and pale blue eyes. Specks of light danced over the silver of his Exorcist uniform, and in the flickering candlelight he presented an almost ethereal image. It was almost a pity Cross was immune to it even if he did turn around. As it was, the General's back remained facing his former disciple.
"Allen, shouldn't you be out in the tower doing something instead of lurking around old, abandoned corridors?"
"And shouldn't you be running off gallivanting with women and wine at this time?" Allen answered as he stopped beside the chair. His eyes took in the documents Cross had in his hand and spread all over him. "Even if it was a brief hit-and-run the first battle has already begun. This place has already been attacked by Akuma, and it's only a matter of time before the whole tower collapses. You should spend whatever is left of your life effectively, when the Earl gets serious it is likely that less than half of us will survive. Of course, the organization is already destroying itself with or without our enemy's help. All it takes is a little more time for it to erode and rot."
He reached down and picked up several documents with his human hand while the other remained in a pocket. Cross' eyes followed the hand as Allen held the documents in front of himself, pale eyes skimming over the information. Those pale eyes soon moved to the side to return Cross' unnaturally solemn gaze. "What's with that expression? You are rarely ever so serious-looking around me." An unnatural smirk split across Allen's face, "Did you remember something from the past?"
"I've had my suspicions for a while now," Candlelight and shadows flickered over the General's face, glinting off his mask. "The night you disappeared from me, the orphanage told me Hanamaru took you…but was it really because of that man?"
Allen smiled frostily, knowing that Cross was referring to the gentlemanly but mysterious Tiki several years ago. "You don't need to know anything about that. Besides, it no longer matters, he is no longer the center of my world; but unlike you, I keep the people who treated me well. I won't cast them so carelessly away." It happened so quickly a normal person would have missed it. Allen's Innocence hand seemed to leave his pocket and go back in, but Cross' trained eyes saw the boy throw him something. Cross caught it just as Allen's hand returned inside the pocket, the General looked at what Allen had thrown and his eyes narrowed: it was a button from his General uniform.
"I found that in Komui's bed," Allen explained. "How many others know, master?"
Cross smirked as his hand closed around the button, and he looked back up at Allen, "What are you planning to do, my idiot former disciple? Extortion, or blackmail? I don't think anyone will do much to me even if they believe you."
Allen tsked, "I am not so ambitious or greedy. No, no, I just thought I should let you know that I know. When are you planning to leave the Tower anyways? That inspector cannot keep you if you truly felt like escaping, and at the rate things are going it's probably best if you do."
"Are you threatening me to leave, or are your threats directed to the Order?"
"I don't have to do anything, as I said in time this organization will collapse by itself," Allen glanced away briefly, hair covering his eyes. "But I have people I want safe in this place now, given the chance I don't want them hurt. Unfortunately, the preparations are all set and ready. Their fates are beyond even my control now, my time is already limited enough; and you of all people should know that," Allen's eyes glinted almost dangerously, "Isn't that right?"
The documents in Allen's human hand seemingly shivered and cracked before freezing. Then they dissolved, turning into a pile of ashes that slipped from Allen's fingers to the floor below, coating it in a fine gray. Cross watched emotionlessly as Allen smirked and began to walk away. Just as Allen could leave the room, Cross spoke again.
"There is a third side to this war, Allen." At those words the boy froze, his pupils almost dilating to slits. "There is a chance for you, there is hope still."
"What? Aren't you supposed to be happy that the 14th will be returning?" Allen didn't turn to acknowledge his former master, but he continued to talk. "I would have thought you'll be pleased at that little display. On that note, I trust that with the display, you will know better then to give in to those inspectors out of some misguided form of cooperation and tell them what you know." Without waiting for an answer, Allen left, disappearing into shadows and candlelight.
The lone Exorcist walked along the cold, quiet corridors, passing by the unconscious guards without a second glance. He had his reasons to fight so hard for his Innocence. After that one time when several former orphans of Butterfly Orphanage drugged him, his Noah and Innocence side had started to fight. Hevlaska calmed his body, but part of the reason she was successful had been because his Noah side had been forced to retreat in the face of so much Innocence (3). When Midori tore his arm out, a piece of the Innocence remained inside him to battle both his wounds and his Noah side, but it was not so successful for the latter. The Noah that Allen had kept at bay, out of fear of losing control and because he had not completely mastered it, started to manifest itself. Knowing that, he had trained vigorously to reclaim his Innocence, just so he would not be completely taken over by his Noah side.
But some traits of the Noah had already surfaced, Allen's little display to Cross was proof of that. Luckily the power wasn't overwhelming, the resynchronization with his Innocence had prevented too much of the Noah from coming out. Allen knew it was only a matter of time, but if he was prepared enough the transformation would not take over him completely. And he had more then enough reason to remain as Allen now, Kanda was in the picture, unlike in the past he couldn't just let himself be replaced by the Noah (4).
Allen emerged into some of the more used corridors, and at a distance spotted Malcolm talking to a guard. They had their backs towards Allen, so did the Finder hiding in the shadows and holding a camera. Allen frowned, and with a silent leap landed besides the Finder. The man jumped as Allen stared at him, "What are you doing?"
"Ah…nothing, Exorcist sir, just taking some photos."
"Of our dear inspector? Why?" Allen looked closely at the Finder, and then understood, "By whose orders?"
"You heard me," specks of gold entered Allen's eyes, and the tension faded from the man. He bowed to the smaller boy, speaking in a humble voice.
"Alfredo's orders, my liege; unfortunately he did not tell me why it was needed."
"Is that so?" Allen stared down at the Finder, who did not get up from his position. The man recognized that Allen knew who he was now, the Exorcist was no longer clueless about who was a spy and who carried dark matter in them, no matter how little. "Carry on then." Allen walked away, leaving the spying Finder with the purple eyes to his own devices.
The bodies of her Finders were sent back to the Black Order, while those of the clergy's were buried in accordance to the local customs. Now that the unofficial mission was over, Cloud grieved over the death of so many. The locals felt the same, but thanked her for getting rid of the Akuma, and a few of them decided to see her off.
Unfortunately, the same hour she was supposed to leave was also the hour some minister of another country was visiting. Black Order treatment or not, there was going to be a bit of a delay. Cloud didn't mind at first, and spent the time talking to the new friends she made on this trip, until she saw who exactly the visiting minister was.
"Welcome to Andorra, Mr. Kamelot, we hope you enjoy your stay here."
"Of course," the man smiled, for all intent and purposes the charismatic minister people would follow to the end. His teeth were perfectly straight and white. His hair was sleek and dark, combed to a long ponytail. A monocle rested in front of one eye. If not for his name, she might not have recognized him. Almost unconsciously, she drew up the hood of her cloak to cover her face and turned away. "The travel wearies me, but I should be in a fit state to meet your ministers later today." As the minister talked with his escort, another man approached Cloud.
"You should be able to board now, General."
"Of course, thank you."
"We hope to see you again, Miss Nine, or as you prefer, Cloud." The man smiled, but Cloud couldn't return it when she heard the footsteps behind her halt. That man's hearing was amazing, but not surprising.
"Mr. Kamelot?" The confused voice of the man was ignored as the footsteps resumed, except headed in her direction. Cloud didn't turn or remove her hood even as the man – Noah, he was likely a Noah – stopped beside her.
"Cloud Nine?" It wasn't a question, and as there was no point, Cloud turned to look at him. Sheryl's face split into a slow smile when he saw her. "How long has it been, hum? Years have passed, I thought you had perished and left this world." He tilted his head, and tapped his chin with a white-gloved hand. "I am sure Eclipse would love to hear that you've still alive. To know that Little Cloud is here…"
"I apologize, minister," Cloud lifted her cloak to reveal her Exorcist uniform – and the crest it proudly display, "But I have to leave now. Those of the Black Order have many deadlines to meet, and as a General I have plenty of duties." She took note of the narrowing in his eyes before releasing her hold, and the cloak covered the uniform again. "I hope you enjoy your stay here minister, it is a lovely country."
The General turned and headed away, but Sheryl drawled out, "If it interests you, Eclipse is currently still in Portugal." Cloud paused, and the man – Noah – continued, "As a General free to travel wherever you wish, you might want to consider that as your next destination." He was waiting for a response, a reaction, Cloud knew that well enough to not say anything and simply leave. As she disappeared into the crowd, Sheryl turned to the boy behind him, "The only female General, and I happen to have history with her. Isn't that an honour, Devin?"
"She destroyed all your Akuma here, as well as the broker," The Arabian-clothed boy answered emotionlessly. Sheryl shrugged.
"If she's a General, that's to be expected. Still, I never expected the 'Cloud' Exorcist General that Midori told me about is the same 'Cloud' I knew. I am most curious at Eclipse's reaction if he ever finds out, that Little Cloud is indeed alive and well."
Hotel Conference Room, Britain
The room was filled with chattering journalists, reporters, and all those eager for a good story to publish to the media. Cameras and other flashing lights were set, papers and pens were being passed around, and voices all talked over each other trying to hear rumours, or spread them. The press conference was given on a very short notice, and the newsmaker was Alfredo Arks. The subject wasn't about business either, which only garnered more curiosity.
Cameras started flashing as two bodyguards came into the room with Alfredo Arks. He was leading a younger man of Asian descent, and though his features had changed slightly the suit under the lab coat and the glasses reminded those familiar with Alfredo's history of someone. Then one of the reporters shouted, "Komui?! Aren't you the missing protégé?!"
As if a dam had broken, the reporters all started firing questions as the cameras flashed with even more intensity. Alfredo remained smiling, but neither he nor Komui said anything as they walked up a platform towards the table set in front of the room. Anyone who knew Komui in the Black Order would have been surprised at the change in appearance, but those who once knew him as Alfredo's protégé found him to be the same as before. Komui was wearing a sleek black suit, properly buttoned up with a black tie. On top he wore a white lab coat, indicating a scientist's expertise even as a businessman. His beret was gone, and his hair had returned to the long ponytail he wore when he first entered the Black Order (5). Although there were thick bandages wrapped around his forehead, the way he carried himself was not of a goofy scientist, but of one who wielded power and knew it. Before, the stance had only been adopted when he was seriously acting the role of Black Order Supervisor.
Now, he was going to use the stance continuously when under public scrutiny. Komui Lee, protégé of Alfredo Arks, favoured student of the Arks family, victor in the power struggle between the adopted and sponsored children, mastermind of the coup behind the Science Division, genius scientist, and former Black Order Supervisor was not a man easily shaken. He appeared completely at home besides the powerful Alfredo Arks and under the attention of so many reporters. There were plenty of young journalists who have only heard of Komui Lee and never seen him, but a few of them had actually been present when Exorcists Sol and Tina married. At that time, most of the reporters were in gossip-oriented news, and didn't know who exactly they were dealing with when the Black Order Supervisor answered some of their questions.
But this time, with older, more experienced reporters, Komui Lee was well recognized. The Chinese man now present was the one they knew from history – intelligent, dangerous, almost always by Alfredo's side, and followed by bodyguards, as fitting for those with power. Indeed, as the former Arks children approached the platform, they were followed by two more bodyguards, totalling the count at four bodyguards to protect them as Alfredo and Komui sat down by the table. Once settled, Alfredo raised a hand for silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming despite such short notice." The man allowed for a short pause so that the flashing of the cameras could settle. "I called this press conference for two reasons. First, as one of you have guessed correctly, to announce and show the world that Komui Lee, my missing protégé who disappeared years ago, has now returned."
"Mr. Roswell, would your protégé return to his previous status as both scientist and businessman, or is he simply settling with one occupation?"
"Komui! Where have you been all those years?"
"What have Mr. Arks and Mr. Pinefresh got to say about this development?"
"Does Mr. Lee still have his shares in the Arks company?"
"I ask you all to please slow down," Alfredo's smile was charming, he was completely in his element as he dealt with the reporters. Upon his request, the reporters stopped firing questions, though the cameras and scribbling continued. "My protégé has yet to decide for the long-term what he will be doing, but he will at the very least resume scientific pursuits." That was a silent message to the Black Order, that Komui would continue the experiments on the modified Akuma. "No, my brothers do not know that my protégé has returned, though they have previously heard from me that I have an idea where he is. Yes, as a matter of fact, Komui Lee does have all his old property. I have been handling it for him, but it was always under his name and all rights now go back to him. As for where he's been, this is what the press conference is about." Alfredo glanced over at his protégé, "Komui, if you may."
Komui smiled briefly at the other man before turning back to the reporters. "Hello, I am most grateful that you are all here today. As Alfredo mentioned, this press conference is to announce my return to the public, but it is also to show my former captors that I am alive and well, and that justice will be served."
"Captors?!" Whispering spread like rapid fire among the reporters, Komui allowed them a few seconds before continuing.
"Let's wind the cloak back several years, I may not have been so public with my life but in many photos of Alfredo, I am present with him. But suddenly, almost overnight, all those are destroyed, and the photos and articles containing any mention of me are removed. You probably asked, what happened? Did this Komui person never exist? You see me now, flesh and blood, so it couldn't be that. For those of you who were curious at first when that happened, you probably asked around. Some of you might have heard the name of the people responsible: The Black Order."
A hush seemed to fall over the crowd as Komui continued. "See, the Black Order have always limited your activities, unfortunately. Censoring material? That's just the beginning. Those mysterious explosions, strange disappearances, and monsters floating around, you're never allowed to write the truth about those. Why? Because the Black Order said so. Who or what is the Black Order? No one, except those in the organization, knows. I was."
"Are you saying the Black Order were your captors, Mr. Lee?" A reporter asked.
"No, no, at least, not at first, in the beginning I stayed willingly because they had something more important then money and freedom: A person whom I loved enough to give up my life for." At the Black Order Tower, the hospital patients gathered around the television that the nurse had switched on for them. Linali watched, half tearful, half afraid, at the grainy image of her brother calmly delivering his words to the reporters and millions of people in the world. Not far from her, Kanda watched silently. "I would do anything for that person, it was she who was really imprisoned by the organization. Compared to her, what I went through was nothing. For one, I was never physically restrained, or forced to fight before I was ten." Gasps ran in the room.
"A limited degree of freedom and autonomy was granted to us eventually, and for a while we were happy." Komui continued. "The organization is made up of a variety of people. Some are there by their free will, others are forced into it, some have their own reasons to fight for it, others have nothing to lose and the organization is the only thing they have. Some consider the place their family and home, others, a prison." Komui knew of those similar to Suman's background, he might as well bring it to public.
"Throughout the years I grew to love the family there, but there were always, always people inside trying to destroy it. We risk our lives and fight for them, yet these people are the ones who treat us as no more then machines and weapons. To them, we weren't even human, I was lucky enough to be placed in a non-combative position, but the one I cared for wasn't."
Lucky? Allen thought as he listened to the radio in the Dining Hall. Without Jeryy the food wasn't that good, and most of the cheer and joy was missing. Right now everyone was silent as they listened to Komui talk to the public. Allen looked at his Innocence hand, both a curse and blessing. Lucky to have Innocence, or not?
"I am not here to denounce the organization, as they have their own purpose and need to continue to exist. What I denounce are the leaders, who send children to fight in wars and imprison others. Recently a new leadership was adopted, and now the organization is no more then a dictatorship, controlled by one man. This man threw many in prison, stripped people of their rights, starved, beaten, and generally abused his subordinates. He handpicked his own army, and anyone showing dissent is dealt with quickly. Again, I was lucky enough to escape before he did anything to me, but he held my friends hostage and tried to extort from me, to blackmail. I agreed to the deal, but it turns out that he never intended to release my friends. They're all dead, murdered."
Reaching inside his lab coat, Komui pulled out a folder and opened it. Inside was a photo of the Vatican inspectors currently in the Black Order, Allen would later recognize it was the one he saw the spy Finder taking. "This is the man responsible, Malcolm Levellier, and one of his guards. The man has a whole army of them who are responsible for enforcing his unfair laws." Closing the folder, Komui placed it on the table and with both hands still resting on it, stood up slowly. "Malcolm tried to extort from me, but the deal failed. The man you sent to retrieve what you wanted has been, in Black Order terms, exorcised and set free" – literally he has been killed, and only the Order would understand that – "and now, it's your turn, except you won't be exorcised." Komui's eyes swept over the audience, lingering on every face and camera.
"As Mr. Roswell mentioned, all my bank accounts, shares, bonds, etc, are in good shape. Therefore, I offer ten million to the person who brings me the head of Malcolm Levellier, twice the amount for the person who brings him back to me alive." More gasps and scribbling, but Komui was on a roll. Long, pale fingers touched the bandages around his forehead, remembering how the guard Malcolm sent had beaten him. "I want the whole world to know, that those double cross me, who imprison me, threaten me, and try to extort from me will not live long. I want the whole world to know, that Komui Lee is not a person to be underestimated. If it is an organization, legal or illegal, public or private, who achieves the deed, the money shall be divided under their conditions. If the police arrest him, and manage to keep him arrested, the money will be given to them. My objective is for Malcolm Levellier to suffer now, to let him feel what my imprisoned friends felt, living in the dark and not knowing when the next moment might be his last!"
An underground room, unknown location
With a roar Malcolm grabbed the radio and threw it against the floor, smashing it into large pieces. The inspector's hands curled into fists as the angry man drew in large breaths, "How dare he! Who does he think he is? He thinks he can get away with this?"
The guards nearby didn't dare say anything, but muffled snickering soon filled the room. Malcolm whirled around to see one of the prisoners, Jeryy, curled up uncomfortably against the cold wall of his cell – but laughing. Malcolm's eyes narrowed as he wretched the cell door open. The other prisoners quickly moved out of his way as the inspector stormed forward toward the former chef, who continued to laugh into his sleeve.
"What's so funny, Jeryy?" Malcolm snarled, more then miffed that his presence did nothing to intimidate the prisoner. Jeryy gave up trying to muffle the sound, and out right laughed at the man. It was a desperate, but amused laugh, and it mocked Malcolm and everything he stood for. Jeryy's laughter was unnerving to almost everyone in the room, it was high and had a twisted expression of delight. The laughter echoed against the walls before ending in loud, heaving gasps as Jeryy caught his breath. He lowered his head, his hair covering his eyes, as a large smile split across his face.
"I knew you would break your end of the deal," Jeryy sneered, "but I didn't expect it to end this way for you. Now Komui's going to continue his experimentations to help to Noahs, and he's using money to hunt you down." The man lifted his head, and there was a wild look to his eyes to match his large grin. "You've all but ensured my death, killing me was the best way to deal with the troublesome elements I represent as both Black Order member and Komui's friend. However, now I'm going to go to my grave laughing, knowing that my death has caused you to become hunted. Ten million to the person who kills you, and twice that for the person who takes you to him alive? So many people would sell their souls for that amount of money. Killing you, or simply beating you into submission so they could hand you over to him is nothing!"
Jeryy doubled over when Malcolm kicked him in the stomach, hard. The inspector's eyes were blazing, but at his attack, laughter again escaped from Jeryy's lips. The bitter sound of a man who had nothing to lose mixed with the words he gasped out, "Aren't you going to kill me? Go ahead, I die now, and in Heaven or Hell I would simply smile and laugh at you! I wonder how many people in the Order would take up Komui's offer, hum? How many of your guards will remain faithful, how many of the Exorcists, Finders, and the rest of the Order would use this opportunity to get rid of you!"
A guard took the opportunity to beat Jeryy viciously, but he continued laughing, eyes mocking the inspector. Reever could only watch helplessly, but he knew he wasn't the only one musing about Jeryy's words. They all reached the same conclusion as Malcolm: there were many who would sell the inspector out. For Komui to dangle such a tempting reward in front of them, he had effectively turned everyone in the Black Order into potentially becoming Malcolm Levellier's assassin.
(1) Komui and Miranda had this conversation in Chapter 29 The Possible Suspects
(2)We all know Tiki's been suspicious of Komui's sources for a while, but Chapter 33 The Exposure of Tricks reached another level
(3) In Chapter 32 The Investigation Concludes not even Hevlaska truly knew what happened, here's the answer
(4) This mirrors what Kanda was thinking about not being able to give up his life so easily anymore, the two of them know that being involved means their lives are more precious now
(5) The work of the hair potion he invented, Komui's using it to go back to the Komui we saw in Linali's first flashback, when her brother had long hair
The spies in the Black Order aren't all human and some are starting to attack, Malcolm knows about Miranda's Bride of Time status, Reever and everyone friendly with Komui are probably going to be executed because the exchange was never meant to be honoured, General Cloud knows Eclipse and Sheryl Kamelot, Kanda and Lavi realizes the Noahs want Allen back, prompting Lavi to get into a fight with Tiki, Lulubell's set Gilbert up for her plan, Gwen's received the golem detailing everything that happened during Alfredo's attack, Eclipse is concerned about the Noah in Allen, whose powers are developing much to Cross's dismay, and Komui's set a public bounty on Malcolm's head! Whose hunting who now?