General Marion Cross probably had the distinction of being the single exorcist most knowledgable about AKUMA - a little-known fact, actually. (Cross really should have recieved more praise for his efforts on behalf of the Black Church, but between praise and his cherished privacy, anonymity, and secrecy, there just wasn't any contest.) He had the secrets of the first Noah's Ark locked in his mind, had modified AKUMA into successful spies, and even included AKUMA parts in his person golem, allowing Timcampy to be stronger and more indestrucible than any other golem on earth. Except for the Earl, Cross was fairly sure he could safely say he knew more about AKUMA than anyone.

Still, he'd never seen anything quite like this.

The townspeople had been mildly worked up over the matter. "It's certainly not human," complained one woman. "Obviously a problem for an Exorcist!" exclaimed a shopkeeper. (Of course, most people had a poor grasp of what was really an 'Exorcist' problem or not. Most people didn't even know what AKUMA really were.)

So when Cross found the source of the vandalism, stolen property, and missing food in an abandoned building, he wasn't entirely surprised to find it was a thin, likely underfed child. What did surprise him was the child's appearance.

He was dressed in a button-down shirt and black slacks, with only one glove and tattered boots. His hair was half-hidden under loosely-woven cloth, but inexplicably for his apparent age, it was stark white. A scar arced down one cheek in a jagged line.

And behind him, a silvery tail twitched.

Their first confrontation was mostly the boy scrambling away until Cross had him cornered, where he shoved back against the wall with wide eyes. Clearly the uniform and silver cross had no effect on him; Cross could only conclude that the child - thing - was not in fact an AKUMA.

This was a waste of his time. Still, the promise of free food and free board, should he get rid of the problem, was enough of an encouragement to keep him around. It certainly never hurt to not run up a tab in a particular town ...

And normal little boys did not have tails, nor snowy-white hair. There was something odd going on here, quite possibly related to the Earl. He reached out and grabbed the boy's arm. "All right, child, you've caused enough havoc," he said grumpily. "Come with me."

The boy shook his head violently and resisted, the heels of his tattered boots digging into the floor. Cross turned to look at his defiant face. "... come with me or I'll knock you out and take you over my shoulder if I have to."

The boy's eyes widened slightly and he twisted as far away as he could, scrabbling desperately at the wall for purchase. Cross made an exasperated sound; this child was thin and unhealthy. What did he think he was going to accomplish?

Cross released the kid's arm suddenly enough to ensure that he clocked himself against the wall on his forehead, making him reel. Then a sharp rap with his hammer did the rest of the job.

He slung the child over his shoulder and strode out of the old building.

&

It was less curiosity and more serious contemplation that led Cross to take the boy back to his own boarding room. He handcuffed the unconscious creature to the radiator and called the town mayor with the news that the problem had been taken care of, and would the bartender be so kind as to send up the best liquor to his inn?

So it was half an hour later that Cross was sipping brandy and nudging the still-lifeless boy with his foot.

So he's gone to sleep Cross decided. The thin child's hands and feet were too large for his body, and shape was barely defined; he couldn't have been any older than twelve. He leaned over the boy and tugged the cloth around his white hair free, unwinding it. "Oh my," he muttered.

To accompany the tail, there were silver-white, pointed ears on his head.

Cross made an exasperated sound again. "You're not exactly human, are you, child? Yet you're not an AKUMA either ..." At least not one that knew its purpose, which made no sense. AKUMA were skeletons that were bestowed with souls in the Earl's direct presence and born with the insatiable urge to kill, starting with the person that loved them the most. Unless this boy were somehow a modified AKUMA ... although it wouldn't explain the catlike resemblance.

He lifted the boy's gloved hand, plucking the tired cloth away to reveal another oddity; a severely scarred hand, nailed blackened, the joints cracked and misshapen. He ran his thumb over the smooth-rough knuckles, turning the hand this way and that to get a better look at the pattern of scarring; it looked like a small four-pointed star in the middle of the back of his hand. Strange ... and familiar. Cross fingered his mask. "And somehow an Accomodator as well, perhaps?" he murmured. It could be nothing, a copycat mark made by a madman - there were stranger things in this world - but it was unlikely.

And now, the final mystery ... Cross tilted the boy's chin back until his head thumped against the wall gently. He brushed the white hair away from the child's forehead.

The scar that slithered down his cheek did indeed go up over his eye and onto his forehead, in the shape of an upside-down pentacle. Cross scowled. It was the mark of an AKUMA. Maybe his first assessment had been right after all ...

"Un ..."

The child shifted his shoulders, and Cross withdrew his hand thoughtfully, leaning over the boy as he sipped his brandy. "Ah, you're awake. Good; you've been inconveniencing me, so I want some answers."

The boy blinked slowly, his gaze clearing, and his ears perking before drawing back. He lifted his free hand to his head with a hearty wince before blinking and patting his bared hair - just before dropping his hand into his line of vision. His gaze shot up to meet Cross', panicky.

"Yes, I've uncovered everything," Cross said dismissively. "But I want you to explain what it means." He leaned down close so the boy shrank back. "I have no scruples, so don't rely on mercy to get you out of this."

The boy gave a tiny nod after a moment, and Cross relented. As expected, it didn't take much to make the boy agree, although he wasn't sure he'd be getting the whole truth.

Or, for that matter, anything at all. The boy was pointing to his throat and making a pathetic sound, a whimper like the one he'd made when he woke up. He was mute? Then he's useless ... But he hesitated; the boy had flattened out his cuffed hand and ran the fingers of his other hand across it, as if writing. "You can write, boy?" he asked.

The boy nodded, then held out a hand expectantly.

Cross reached into the bedside table, found letter paper and a fountain pen, and handed it to the boy, half expecting to get gibberish.

My father taut me how to rite. The boy's penmanship and spelling was poor, but the scrawled letters made sense. It was nothing but a small miracle.

"Was it because you were mute, boy?" Cross asked. It was rare enough that a child found in such circumstances knew his letters, forgetting everything else about him.

The boy shook his head. I culd talk befor.

Oh really? Cross thought. "Before what?" he asked.

The boy bent his head to the paper. I dont no.

Cross narrowed his eyes. "Before you got to looking the way you do now?" The boy just shrugged in response. "Do you not speak because you aren't able or because you don't want to? Answer me, boy."

The boy lowered his ears and underlined his previous statement. I dont no.

Cross wasn't one overly given to sentimentality or kindness, but he relented out of necessity. He didn't know what had happened to this child or if it even was a child any more, but some kind of AKUMA monstrosity ... he left that line of questioning behind. "Very well. How'd you end up here, stealing from honest folk, child?" As if I didn't do that myself. In Cross' case it was obviously justified, anyway.

The boy's brows drew together slightly at the question. The answer Cross got on the paper was not one he was expecting.

Im not 'boy'. My name is Allen Walker. There was a pause as the boy's pen hovered on the edge of the paper. I dont remember alot, eksept my name.

Cross sat back for a moment - long enough drain his brandy, anyway, and reach for a cigarette. He lit it, pretending not to watch as 'Allen Walker' watched him with wide eyes. "Well, then, Allen Walker," he said slowly, leaning down and blowing a ring of smoke right around that nonplussed face, "I guess we're going to jog your memory."

tbc