The Twenty-Seven Dead Apostles
A Tsukihime fanfic
Written by Spiritblade
Disclaimer: I do not own Tsukihime, though the fact is that its impressive storyline - and characters - owns me to the point several of my works boast its influence. What can I say...it's a classic. Only wish the anime was longer. One can hope that they re-do it, and deepen the storyline and Shiki's relationship with the other characters.
And as usual, I hope the liberties I take with the story (i.e. : the inclusion of the old World of Darkness's Vampire: The Masquerade, Vampire: The Dark Ages, Demon - The Fallen, as well as Type-Moon's Fate/ Stay Night and Fate/ Hollow Ataraxia) are forgiven. And of course I own none of them!
Special thanks to Wikipedia (and the person who gave it) for the references on the 27 Dead Apostles and their background stories. But man, somehow I get the feeling that I'm so gonna get. That gut feeling aside, let's get down to the story.
X X X X X X
Arcuied Brunestud, True Ancestor Princess and chosen executioner of the Shinso, was perhaps one of the most powerful beings on the face of the planet. Occultists familiar with the name say that if there is any one being capable of matching the First Vampire in strength and power, the Shinso's White Princess would be it. Created originally to hunt down the Demon Lords - the fallen True Ancestors who succumbed to their insatiable blood-thirst - she was the perfect living weapon and the second incarnation of the Crimson Moon Brunestud, who had been called upon by the Earth herself to keep a destructive humanity in check.
But, that is where fact and legend collide.
Some believe that Crimson Moon Brunestud was none other than Caine himself, the progenitor of the vampire clans of the First House. The Shinso were the Second House, created to topple the First House that had so moved Caine to ire. Unlike their cousins, however, Caine saw to it that the Second House lacked the flaws of the First save one - their blood-thirst. Each True Ancestor born was born damned to this single flaw that eventually led to the ruination of Caine's Second House.
And, if those occultists saw the True Ancestor princess, skipping about the heart of Misaki city with her chaperone, one wonders if they would start summoning the spirits of those who so misled them by describing the White Princess to be fearsome, cold and brutal, to start giving explanations. The fact that the former had her hand around the hand of the latter and pulling him towards the nearby restaurant, already causing the eyebrows of those around them to be raised, would have caused those same occultists to faint.
"Come on, come on, Shiki! I heard the food here is good!"
"Ah...but Arcuied, t-this is a first-class r-restaurant...! I don't have that kind of money!"
"Eh? Don't worry. I have enough to see that we have a full-course lunch!"
She pulled the reluctant young man through the doors where a well-dressed man greeted them, "A table for two, miss?"
Arcuied nodded, smiling. The man's face reddened, and it took all of his willpower to maintain his composure in the face of such alluring beauty. It still confused Arcuied that human men - and no few women - reacted in such a way when she spoke to them directly. Shiki had explained to her that she was physically perfect, and possessed an inner radiance that made that beauty shine even brighter. The fact that she was a foreigner made her stand out even more.
"Make that a table for three," a familiar voice spoke behind them, causing Arcuied to almost jump ten feet back and Shiki to whip his head about. Standing behind him, one hand raised in greeting and smiling in a friendly fashion, was Ciel.
Arcuied raised one hand and pointed at the Burier, "Ciel...! What are you..."
"Doing here?" she smiled, "I saw you and Tohno-kun entering the restaurant, and I thought of joining you."
Arcuied's expression took on a look of annoyance, reminding Shiki of an angry cat, "Could you go somewhere else and leave me and Shiki alone, Ciel?"
The pointed undertone of that request made Ciel's friendly smile take an edge, "No, I can't. You're a bad influence on him, Arcuied. He was supposed to be in school today, not out gallavanting with you. No doubt you forced him to go with you."
"Uh, sempai..." Shiki said.
"I'm a bad influence on him?" Arcuied said, "Have you looked into the mirror recently, Ciel? All of this happened because you couldn't keep your hands off him."
The table manager looked at Shiki in alarm. He could see the inferno coming. Nearby guests had started looking at the two arguing girls, some in disapproval, others in growing interest. Shiki, knowing that if he did not stop Arcuied and Ciel, the restaurant would very well end up levelled. Their dislike for each other was such that neither would pull their punches.
"Stop it, both of you," Shiki said, his stern tone causing the two girls to freeze and turn their attention onto him. Maintain control, his mind told him, Or this WILL get worse...
"We're here to eat, Ciel. And I don't mind your joining us. A table for three, please," Shiki said, "And I apologise for this rather crazy scene. They're good friends underneath it all."
"Oh, don't worry, sir. Besides, it's not every day that a young man has two very pretty girls fighting over him," the table manager replied. Shiki rolled his eyes. Two? There were more than two girls fighting for his affections. He needed both his hands to count them all, and three of those lived with him under the same roof on a mansion overlooking the city. He led Arcuied and Ciel, both of whom were glaring daggers at each other, to the table.
Menus appeared before them an instant later, and the orders made within five minutes. Even Ciel, upon seeing a chance to have someone pay for her addiction to curry, proposed a cessation of hostilites for the time being. Ciel, ever wary of the chance to spend more time with Shiki, had initiated a conversation regarding matters in Fuyuki Shinto City.
"Are you talking about the gas leak incidents that happened there?" Shiki asked.
"Yes, but I think you know well enough that it was not faulty construction that caused those incidents, Shiki," Ciel said. The subtle nuance of her tone told the High Schooler that it had something to do with the supernatural.
"There was a war there, one fought between Magi for a powerful relic called the Holy Grail."
Arcuied's eyes widened, "The Holy Grail...? You mean..."
"That war ended. Another one - the False Grail War - began. It caused something of a time paradox. My colleague, Caren Ortesia, was sent into the city to deal with it. She got involved with someone called Emiya Shirou," Ciel said, and giggled, "It's the first time I've ever seen her blush. She's always the cool and collected sort."
"Like Shion?" Shiki ventured, remembering the lovely amethyst-haired Alchemist that had come to Misaki City only weeks before.
"Caren's more friendly than Shion. If you ever meet her, I'd advise you from revealing too much about yourself. If she finds out your weakness, you will never hear the end of it."
"You mentioned that Caren is your colleague, Ciel," Arcuied said, "Does that mean she's also part of the Burial Agency?"
"Yes. I won't tell you what her powers are, but suffice to say, she has been instrumental in ensuring that the Church's enemies do not escape retribution," Ciel replied, the last clearly spoken in a fashion that included Arcuied in the category. The True Ancestor Princess smiled, her red eyes gleaming, daring Ciel to bring more of her fellow Buriers into Misaki City.
"Oh, don't worry, Arcuied. Caren is reluctant to leave Fuyuki Shinto. If she does, the competition may well snatch her man away while her back is turned," Ciel sipped her tea, "And, if I read the tone of the letter she sent me correctly, any such request that takes her away from the city will be met with an official stonewall. I'm glad, though..."
Shiki smiled. This Caren Ortesia sounded like a nice girl despite her personality quirks. The way she was described reminded him all too much of Kohaku, her amber eyes hiding enough mischief to bring the mansion down. And Arcuied as well...
At that, Shiki turned to look at the True Ancestor Princess, who was looking out the window, watching people walk by. Realising that Shiki was looking at her, she turned her red eyes back on him, curiosity in them, "What is it, Shiki...?"
"Uh..." Quickly, think of something...! "Arcuied...uh..."
"Yes? Yes?" she grinned mishievously, pouncing on Shiki like a cat does on a mouse.
"Are you the only True Ancestor left alive?" Shiki gave himself a mental kick immediately for asking such a thoughtless question. Even Ciel-sempai's eyes widened at that faux pas. Arcuied did not seem affected by it, and she replied that she was but one of two - the second being her younger 'sister', Altrouge Brunestud.
"I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you more about my race, Shiki. Ciel knows a lot about vampires, but there are things, I believe, that she is not aware of. So start taking notes, Church-girl. It could save your life," Arcuied said, locking her red eyes with Ciel's cold blue ones, "Also, it may have something to do with you, Shiki..."
Ciel's eyes sharpened, "What do you mean, Arcuied? Shiki is a normal per..." and arrested herself before she got any further. The memory of Shiki fighting Nero Chaos's familiars, consigning them and the mighty Dead Apostle to Final Death was still fresh in her memory. One young man did what entire kill-teams of Exorcists could not - he intimidated a Dead Apostle, and annihilated it. And he did not do it once. He did it three times. No one in the entirety of the Inquisition could boast a kill-score of Dead Apostles as high as Shiki's. And what more, he does not even have an ounce of combat experience to his name. Should the Inquisition hear about it, they would trip heads over heels to recruit him.
"No," Arcuied began, "When I first met Shiki, he killed me."
Ciel's eyes widened. Did she hear correctly? Shiki killed Arcuied? If so...
"Why are you still alive?"
"I am not that easy to kill, Ciel. When he killed Nero Chaos, Roa and Wallachia, he killed their existence. All beings, big and small, mortal and immortal, stand within Creation. Shiki destroys their 'concept' within it. Even I cannot escape Death should Shiki have eliminated my existence," Arcuied said, reaching out to touch Shiki's hands in apology, "But it is an event I am glad took place, despite the inconvenience it caused me."
"Stop molesting him, Arcuied," Ciel said crossly, trying to control her disbelief upon hearing that Shiki had almost sent a being as powerful as the legendary progenitor of the vampiric race to Final Death,"Tell us about the Dead Apostles."
Arcuied withdrew her hand, pouting, "Where to begin...?"
Arcuied's eyes took a distant look, as she attempted to recall what she had been taught by her tutors. It had been long ago, but she could still hear their voices in her mind. Centuries of history and lore, the only companions in the long centuries of her hunt, returned to be shared with those willing to listen. She smiled inwardly; here was something she could give Shiki in repayment for all the things he told her about. It would prove to be a good story to tell over lunch.
"I've told you about how Dead Apostles were created, didn't I?" Arcuied began. Shiki nodded.
"Then, I will tell you about the 27 Dead Apostles. Some of them are dead, while others are still waging the Jyhad against the First House of Caine and amongst themselves. First things first, Shiki - there are only two True Ancestors left. One is me. The other is my younger 'sister', Altrouge Brunestud. She was given the Brunestud title because, like me, she can open the gateway to the Millennium Castle. She was also the person who gave Wallachia his powers."
"You mean she was the one who gave Shion's ancestor...?"
Arcuied nodded, and turned towards Ciel, "The Church believes that there are 27 Dead Apostles. That list is erroneous. There are fewer than 27, and between myself and Shiki, that number has been further reduced. The vampires that the Inquisition have fought for centuries were either those of the First House, who are far more numerous, and whose ability to bring new members into their respective Clans far outstrips the Shinso's or those who were called the Lesser Apostles."
"The Lesser Apostles?"
"Yes. There were many humans who had fallen prey to the True Ancestors - or who were made that way by those who fell in love with them..." and Arcuied fell silent, remembering how close to losing herself that time. Had she been unable to control herself, she would have made Shiki an Apostle. The thought of a Dead Apostle's powers - granted upon the time of the Embrace - married to his ability to destroy anything would have made him a real monster. Added to the fact that she, as his creator, was still alive, and the remaining Dead Apostles would not to contend with one executioner, but two.
Ciel's icy look told Arcuied that her adversary had not forgotten that incident either, which was why she was worried whenever Shiki was around her. That, and the fact that she was jealous. That Ciel would go out on a limb to protect her for Shiki's sake told Arcuied that the Inquisitor was not going to lay one on her when her back was turned.
"Lesser Apostles," Arcueid continued, "grow stronger with the passing of every decade, but upon reaching their hundredth year of life, their body starts to degenerate. The quickest way for them to counter this is to drink blood."
"Arcuied, do the True Ancestors suffer from the same degeneration?" Shiki asked, briefly changing the subject.
The True Ancestor princess shook her head, "The Dead Apostles have a flawed immortality. It is not the perfect eternity that the True Ancestors are born with. It is hard enough trying to contain our blood-thirst. Had my race's creator introduced this flaw into us as he had the First House...it would have been a nightmare."
Both Shiki and Ciel fell silent.
"But, that was not the only thing that makes the two Houses different. The First House's Disciplines are constrained by both their generation and their bloodline. The Second House - and the Apostles, by extension - are not subjected to that constraint. The children, for lack of a better word, of both Houses gain power as we grow older.
"For the Second House, we have the basic vampiric abilities - superhuman speed and strength, mystic eyes that allow us to command man and beast, and razor-sharp senses - from the start. From there, we start training ourselves in the powers we wish to acquire. We can even combine them, something the children of the First House can never do. Only their Ancients, I hear, are capable of doing that."
Seeing Shiki's confused look, Ciel cut in, "The Ancients of the First House, Shiki, are called Antediluvians. They are called such as they have lived in the days prior to the Great Flood. Most of them are as powerful, if not more so, than Arcuied and have had centuries of experience playing the Jyhad before Crimson Moon Brunestud - or Caine - got sick of their fighting and dealt with them. Believe it or not, the Ancients had tried to kill Arcuied at one point in time, and learnt that having one's name on her list is a death sentence."
"How many of the First House Ancients are there, Ciel?" Shiki asked.
"Thirteen in all, if the Erciyes Fragments and the Book of Nod are any indication. Caine may have created more, but the only person who would know the answer to all that is Wizard Marshall Zelretch."
"Zelretch...?" Arcuied grinned, "Now that's a name I haven't heard in a long time. He was something like my grandfather..."
"And he," Ciel added, speaking as if Arcuied has not spoken, "was the one who killed the Crimson Moon Brunestud."
"He what?!" Shiki's face went white.
"He killed Caine in the same way you killed Nero Chaos and the other Dead Apostles. But, unlike you, Zelretch paid a price for his victory. Caine managed to sink his fangs into him, turning him into a Dead Apostle. He ranks 4th in the list, directly beneath Caine himself. No one - Greater or Lesser Apostle - has dared to challenge Zelretch to claim his rank. No one knows if Zelretch drinks blood to maintain his body, but he is nonetheless an ally of humanity, if his penchant for taking the most promising students of the Magic Association and subjecting them to harsh training can be overlooked."
All three of them stopped as their food was served. Shiki's growling stomach, and the savoury scent of the meal laid out before him, saw to it that their conversation was terminated briefly so that they could eat. He remembered Arcuied earlier words about how he was related to the True Ancestors. He shook his head. The assumption alone made no sense. He looked up at Arcuied, who was digging in with all the delight of a happy child. He chuckled, reaching out with a napkin to wipe a spot of sauce off her nose. Had he not seen Arcuied in combat, he would have found it hard to believe that this child-like young woman was actually the Second House's chosen executioner.
Ciel watched this display of affection, inwardly unable to believe that the two individuals before her, both whose natures are utterly opposed to one another, were sitting at the same table AND acting like newlyweds. Arcuied, for her part, enjoyed Shiki's attention like an affectionate kitten.
"The one who ranks the top of the list," Arcuied began as Shiki withdrew his hand, "is the one called Primate Murder, or the White Beast of Gaia. It was created for the sole purpose of killing humans. Shapeshifters - or lycanthropes - regard it as a messenger of the Earth Mother. Its power is so strong that seven guardians were created for the sole purpose of keeping it under control. Primate Murder is under the control of my younger sister, Altrouge, and though it is not a vampire, it copied her habits and drinks human blood."
"What does it look like?"
"A massive wolf the size of this building and six tails. When it runs, the ground beneath it shakes. When it howls, the fabric of reality shivers. In terms of power, not even the Crimson Moon King was its match. How Altrouge managed to bring it under her control, I don't know, but should you ever face my sister, Primate Murder will perhaps be the greatest obstacle next to her bodyguards, Rizo-Waal Strout and Fina-blood Svelt."
"Fina-blood Svelt...? Rizo-Waal Strout? I've heard those names somewhere before..." Ciel mumbled to herself.
"The Church calls Fina-blood Svelt White Knight Svelten. He ranks 8th in the hierarchy. As for Rizo-Waal Strout..."
"Black Knight Strout," Ciel said, finally remembering, "He ranks 6th among the 27."
"Indeed. As their titles indicate, Shiki, they're both Knights. In fighting skill alone, either of them is easily your equal. White Knight Svelten's strength lies in his defensive Charms and Disciplines. He possesses a Reality Marble of an unknown nature called Parade, which I have never seen him use but can conclude, from the rumours I have heard, that it is devastating. And that is not all. Svelten has a ghost ship that can take him to any place on Earth within a day."
"Black Knight Strout, however, is Svelten's direct opposite. Where Svelten is a dandy, Strout is a warmaster. His offensive strength is insane. He's one of the three oldest Dead Apostles in existence, but compared to the rest, strangely, has the smallest number of retainers. Surprisingly, most of those retainers are human, bound to him by blood. And even those that are not bound by blood or curse are extremely loyal. Strout believes that using the tactics of the First House is far more prudent as Svelten's flagrant breaches of the Masquerade bring the Inquisition hot on his heels. Strout possesses a Demon Sword called Neardark, which allows him to cut through anything - kind of like your Eyes of Death Perception, Shiki given material form," Arcuied said before pausing briefly, "Strout, as compared to Svelten, is a fighter, Shiki. If he knows of your abilities, it is most likely that he will try to bring you into his army."
"Strout dislikes the First House a lot. He spends as much time trying to cripple them as he is trying to kill off the servants of Altrouge's rival, Telven Ortenrosse. You are a monster, Shiki," Arcuied's voice became serious, "And if Altrouge even so much as hears of you, she will come for you herself before anyone else does. You will be a potent addition to her arsenal; you might even tip the scales of the Jyhad in her favour."
"I won't let them lay a hand on him, Arcuied," Ciel swore.
"I know. But, it is an unavoidable fact that he may well have to face them eventually, Ciel. Shiki has already killed three Dead Apostles. It wouldn't be long before their absence is noticed, and they start asking all the wrong questions. Dead Apostles, whatever their faults, Ciel, are not stupid. They will find Shiki...and when they do, they will come for him."
"All the more reason for me to bring him to Rome," Ciel countered.
"Good luck in trying to convince Akiha Tohno, then," a familiar voice spoke, "Because it will be a cold day in Hell if she ever allows anyone to take the person she loves away from her!"
Shiki, Ciel and Arcuied jumped. Standing behind them, was Shion Eltnam Atlasia, current head of the Atlas Magical Institute in Egypt. But, Shiki almost could not recognise her. She was clad in a lovely red dress and her amethyst hair was loose, cascading over her shoulders like a waterfall. Regal and proud, she was the image of royalty. Shiki was on his feet in an instant, even as his mind stomped on the cat that threatened to run away with his tongue, "Wha-what are you doing here, Shion? I thought you already..."
"Returned to Egypt? I will...but now I see that I won't be able to after hearing what Arcuied has said."
Shiki sweat-dropped. Good God. Who will come in next? Akiha? A soft meow and the feel of a body pressing against his leg made him look down. A black cat with a matching ribbon looked up at him with familiar red eyes. It was Len. Apparently, she had managed to sneak into the restaurant unseen. Ciel and Arcuied had apparently heard the meow, as they looked under the table to see Shiki pick Len up and deposit her on his lap.
"This table is going to be too small for all of us, Arcuied," Ciel pointed out.
"Don't worry," Shiki said, "When they clear tall this, there will be enough space for all of us. I'll make some room for our Mage Princess."
Shion bristled at the description, but nevertheless pulled out the last chair on the table and joined them. A waiter was about to set her place, but Shion shook her head and merely requested that she bring her wine. Ciel raised one eyebrow, "Are you old enough to be drinking wine, Shion?"
"I am old enough to be dealing with men and women twice my age, and am old enough to be heading an organization as old as the Vatican. So yes, I am old enough," Shion replied testily, "And not a word out of you...!" and fired a glare in Shiki's direction.
"How long have you been here, Shion?"
"For the past two hours."
"Eh...? Does that mean you were here when we...?"
"I was," Shion smiled that familiar controlled smile, "And I was sitting over there."
Shion indicated a table less five feet away. She was that close, and they didn't see her? Ciel and Arcuied looked particularly embarrassed. The Head of the Magic Institute had put a good one on both of them.
"But that aside," Shion continued, "What do you mean that the Dead Apostles will come after Shiki, Arcuied?"
"Simply that, Shion. Shiki wants to live a normal life, but his powers - and what he has done - may very well make that impossible. I assume that you've managed to listen into most of our conversation, so I think you know what it is about."
Shion nodded, "Then I can help with that as well. I am not the Head of the Magic Institute for nothing."
"Indeed. She can tell you more about Warakia more than I can. Of the 27, he ranked 13th. Had the curse not died with him, Shion, you would have inherited his position," Arcuied said, "And I would have come to claim your life."
Shion did not flinch as Arcuied's crimson eyes locked with hers. Her reply, however, made Shiki redden, "By that time, I would already have asked Shiki to see to it that I crossed the Styx still human. Enough of this. I did not come here to argue, but rather to share knowledge - and perhaps amend some preconceptions. You'd better not daydream like you always do, Shiki."
Ciel giggled. Shion, in many ways, reminded her of Akiha's stern and austere demeanour. Beneath it all, however, was a whirlpool of emotions that could bring that facade down with a thunderous crash. And all it took was for one person to turn that whirlpool into a hurricane. In his own, special way, Shiki had wormed his way into the hearts of those he cared for.
Shiki smiled, "I'm all ears, sensei..."
Shion gave him an irritated look, "There is one the Magic Institute is familiar with. He - or it, as we are not sure if this one is human - is the first Dead Apostle. Of the 27 Dead Apostles, he ranks 2nd. The other Apostles call him -it? - the Dark Six. No one knows why it is called such. He is the only Dead Apostle who surpassed the Crimson Moon King in terms of power. No one knows who turned him, but suspicions linger that it might either be Primate Murder - which is impossible since that oversized dog is not a vampire - or the Crimson Moon himself. What the Magic Institute has about him is that he had fought a titanic struggle against several greater demons and their champions that had left an entire city decimated. The city that was destroyed was Pompeii."
"Wait a minute, Shion..." Ciel began, "Are you telling me that...?"
"Yes. The clash caused the volcano to erupt. The Dark Six was so badly injured that it was effectively out of the Jyhad even though it was not slain. Like the Ancients of the Second House, it is resting somewhere, gathering its strength for the time when it would rise again and gather all the Apostles to him."
"You make it sound like he is the Crimson Moon King reborn," Shiki pointed out.
"That's the thing. There's so little known about the Dark Six that much that is written about him is conjecture. The most comprehensive record we have about this Dead Apostle comes from the lips of the Black Exalted known as the Bloody Angel. He was present in the clash, and in repayment for our treating his injuries, he told us what he knew about the Dark Six, and presented us with several weapons and Charms that could be used against any supernatural being. He warns us that if the Dark Six should rise again, we should strike first before it regains its full powers."
"That is one piece of advice that I will heed," Ciel said, "even if it came from a Champion of Darkness. But, it amazes me, Shion. The Bloody Angel herself?"
"Himself," Shion corrected, "This one was male."
Ciel frowned, "But records from the Fourth Crusade stated..."
"The one we struck the bargain with was the new Bloody Angel. The previous Bloody Angel was slain in the Rite of Ascension."
"Uhh...You've lost me, Ciel, Shion. What are you talking about?" Shiki asked.
"Nothing that should worry you," Shion replied, "But more importantly, we should return to the topic at hand. You were talking about Altrouge, Arcuied..."
The True Ancestor Princess nodded, and her eyes looked inwardly, "Altrouge is powerful, more so than her placing among the 27 suggests. Her strength, unlike Svelten or Strout, lies in her ability to see into the minds of her enemies. Marry that to her devious personality and her political acumen, and you have the reason why her prime enemy for the rulership over the Apostles, Telvam Ortenrosse, hates her to the core. Should she manage to persuade you to join her faction, Shiki, the playing field will be levelled considerably."
"Arcuied, I've told you before that - " Shiki looked annoyed.
"And that is the reason why Altrouge will do everything in her power to make you hers. Your power is easily the equal of the First House's Assamite Clan Founder," Arcuied countered, "And should Altrouge endow you with more power - and she will - it will not matter how many vampires and supernatural beings Telvam rallies to his banner. He will lose the Jyhad.
"Telvam is not a true Dead Apostle, per se. He is a sorcerer who became a vampire through his own occultistic research and, as a result, does not have the flaw of true Apostles of physical degeneration. Telvam was the first servant of the Crimson Moon King, and had served in his court until the day Zelretch killed him. Despite the fact that he ranks 17th in the list, his actual rank is closer to that of Wallachia's."
Shion's eyes narrowed at the name of her ancestor.
"Telvam is older than Altrouge by several thousand years. It should not surprise you that his power-base, compared to my younger sister's, is much, much larger..."
"But what if Telvam gets to him first?" Ciel asked.
"That will not happen. Telvam is too much like the First House's Methuselahs in the way he thinks and does things. If he cannot convert Shiki to his cause, he will destroy him. He was the one who proposed the extermination of the Shinso, and had rallied the clans of the First House to do so before their 'lesser siblings' carried out the will of Caine to destroy them."
"Arcuied..." Ciel said slowly, "I have a question to ask."
The White Princess inclined her head.
"Normally, when vampires of the First House drink the blood of another, they form something called the blood bond. Should vampire drink the blood of another three times for three consecutive nights, the bond is near-impossible to break. Is that correct?" Ciel asked.
"And the Second House was created by the Crimson Moon King for the sole purpose of destroying the First House, but was unable to perform their task because many of them fell prey to the same flaw that characterised all vampires - the blood thirst. But, to succumb to this flaw is a death sentence for the Shinso, for human blood is the most potent poison that can bring them low. If they devour the blood of the First House's vampires, will such a bond be created?"
"No. I told you before that the weaknesses which afflict the First House does not afflict the Second. Not completely. Zelretch once told me that there were Inquisitors and Templars who have drained the blood from the Firstborn in order to replenish their strength also Fall eventually. But before that happens, they call upon their fellows to execute them."
"For doing their duty, their reward was death? That's..."
"The only way, Shiki," Shion answered for Arcuied, "You must understand. First House vampires can rise again, no matter how grievous their injuries. All they need is time and a daily infusion of blood. The Second House must ensure that their enemies do not rise to defy them a second time. There are two ways to do it - burning them to ashes, or diablerie."
"Dia-bla-rie?" Shiki tried to pronounce the word.
"Dia-ble-rie," Shion corrected him, "You can call it the Amaranth. It's the process of devouring the soul of another vampire and taking his or her power into oneself. Speaking of which, Arcuied, has any of the True Ancestors ever done so?"
"I'm not sure, but I believe that there were instances. Doing so accelerates their transformation from Shinso to Demon Lords. As such, diablerie was avoided whenever possible," Arcuied replied.
"Arcuied, who is the most powerful of the 27 Dead Apostles?" Shiki asked.
A moment of silence followed, before Arcuied replied, "ORT, the ultimate being from the planet Mercury. It occupies the fifth place in the hierarchy of 27, having exterminated the previous holder of the rank when the latter tried to subdue it in a matter of moments. It was summoned by the Earth to help deal with the humans, but arrived too late. From what I gathered, it has made its home somewhere deep in the South American jungles. It remains fully asleep, having absolutely no interest in the world around it, and does not act unless disturbed. Ciel, this is one being the Exorcists are better off ignoring. Its offensive power is beyond imagination. From its home, it can turn the entirety of Rome into a crater."
"What does ORT look like?" Shion asked.
"A gigantic spider."
The amethyst-haired Alchemist and Ciel shivered at that. They hated spiders.
"Also, there is one more thing you need to know about Altrouge," Arcuied said, "She is half True Ancestor and half-Dead Apostle."
Ciel and Shion stared at Arcuied in stunned silence, while Shiki looked at her in puzzlement. The first asked how such a thing was possible, while the second's analytical mind tried to prove that such a thing was possible as the Dead Apostle was no different from a vampire of the First House.
"It is possible, Ciel," Arcuied replied, emphasising the word,"The Second House and their childer, the Dead Apostles, are different from the vampires of the First House. They can reproduce. The bodies of neither are dead. The Dead Apostles restore their bodies through the consumption of blood. It is not simply to stop their physical degeneration, you know."
Ciel and Shion exchanged looks, and swore to update their respective organisation's records at the first opportunity.
"Also," Arcuied added, seeing a chance to tease Shiki, "as Altrouge looks like a 14-year old, she can easily blend into a crowd."
"That is hard to believe," Ciel said, "considering that the first time you met Shiki, he turned you into a bloody smear right in your own haven. You were powerful enough to regenerate. Does Altrouge have that kind of power, considering she's younger than you?"
"See. The moment Altrouge gets so much as within his line of vision, she's finished..."
"That is provided she does not use her Mystic Eyes on him first. Because if she does, she can have her way with him."
Arcuied's words made Shiki turn red, Ciel to develop several anger crosses and Shion to spit out her drink. The True Ancestor Princess giggled inwardly. They had all taken the bait. Ciel, particularly, had taken it hook, line, sinker and rod.
"Arcuied...!" Ciel's voice held enough venom to kill the True Ancestor Princess.
"Why are you so angry, Ciel?" Arcuied asked innocently.
"Are you trying to provoke me, Arcuied?"
"Goodness, no," the Shinso princess replied, feigning a look of surprise, "Why? Did I say something wrong?"
The resulting face-fault from Shiki and Shion almost made the pictures in the restaurant fall of their moorings. Likewise, several powerful supernatural beings throughout Creation sneezed, and wondered if something of import had happened.
"Arcuied," Shion began, "if that was a joke, it is a bad one."
"Really? But I wasn't joking. Altrouge's Mystic Eyes are more powerful than mine. I used it once on Shiki and..." Arcuied trailed off, realising that she had effectively dug her own grave.
"You WHAT?!" Shion and Ciel said together.
"Uh...don't worry about it. Nothing of that sort happened..." Shiki said, trying to placate the other girls. He did not want to remember what had almost happened when Arcuied had used her Mystic Eyes on him. It was not the act of someone in control - nor was it the act of an upright person.
"Why is it that everyone is thinking of such things whenever my name enters the conversation? I'm not a pervert," Shiki added. Len rubbed her sleek feline body against him, a subtle indication that he lied badly. But, that lie obviously calmed Shion and Ciel, who proceeded to sit back down, but nevertheless continued glaring at Arcuied. The last threw Shiki a grateful look.
"There is one Dead Apostle that we, the Church, managed to destroy several decades ago," Ciel spoke, returning the conversation to its original subject, "His name is Stanrobe Calhin. He ranked 11th in the hierarchy of the Dead Apostles. He was nicknamed the Lord of Predation and the Devourer of Cities. I participated in that battle over fifty years ago, and it had cost the Inquisition close to sixty members trying to destroy him."
"I've heard of him. Stanrobe is among one of the oldest Dead Apostles, and one of the most cruel. He was active during the days when Rome was governed by a council of 4 Emperors," Shion said.
"When was this?" Ciel asked.
"310 A.D. Each of the 4 Emperors was a puppet of vile evils that the Magic Institute and the Church have sworn to crush. Stanrobe was a devotee of the demon, Asmodeus, and was the spymaster for Constatine, who numbered among the 4 Emperors. When Christianity was in its infancy, Stanrobe had helped his master hunt down those who converted. That was when he earned his nickname, 'Lord of Predation'. It is a sobriquet for Lord of the Hunt."
"And the Devourer of Cities?" Shiki asked, intrigued.
"He earned that 700 years later, when he caused the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Misdirection, whispered temptations and lies were Stanrobe's most formidable weapons, dwarved only by the immense power he possesses. The destruction of that city released a mighty demoness, who had been sealed beneath the city by the Templars over a century ago. And when that Fallen escaped her prison, the Crusaders went amok, looting, killing and raping the city's inhabitants."
"Kami-sama..." Shiki whispered.
"Stanrobe still exists, albeit in ghostly form, but his time is running out. Should he not find a host before the turn of the next century, the Unholy Host will drag him to Hell, as per the clauses of the pact he made centuries ago. The Magic Institute and the Church are searching for him, in order to confine him and make sure that he receives his due."
"Are there any Dead Apostles, save Wizard Marshall Zelretch, that do not see humanity as pawns and playthings, Arcuied?"
"Well, there are several..." Shion said, "Amon those is a vampire who is called Valrey Fernand Vandelstam, better known as Van-Fem. He is one of the oldest Dead Apostles, ranking 14th in the list, and is a Puppet Master. He likes human society a lot, and had set up a floating casino in Monte Carlo after the first World War. He's insanely rich, and has a high social standing in human society.
"In the Jyhad, Van-Fem is neutral. He sides with no one. He's on bad terms with Telvam and Altrouge, but neither will make a move against him because it will draw attention to them. Van-Fem has alliances the world over, and it is rumoured that the Inquisition actually owes him a favour," and looked in Ciel's direction.
"Unsubstantiated rumours. Van-Fem is a vampire, Shion. The stand of the Church is clear - no heretic will escape us," Ciel replied, before looking at Arcuied, "Unless we let them..."
The True Ancestor Princess pulled one eye and stuck out her tongue.
"Or unless they still wish to serve humanity. The Knight of Vengeance - or Enhance, as he likes to be addressed - who ranks 18th in the hierarchy, has the same goals as Arcuied," Ciel continued, "He, like Strout, holds a demonic sword called Avenger, and a Holy Scripture given by the Church in the shape of a gun. Enhance is relatively young, and is very brash. He's blacklisted by the First House vampire sects of the Camarilla and the Sabbat, who want him dead, and will reward any coterie who manages to kill him.
"There is also one among the Burial Agency," Ciel smiled, relishing the shock on the faces of Shiki, Arcuied and Shion, "He ranks 20th in the entire hierarchy. His name is..."
"Merem Solomon!" Shion said in a strangled voice, "So the rumours were true. This is one of the few times that the Church has ever made an exception to its rule of its persecution of heretics."
"Indeed. Merem Solomon, despite his appearance as a child, and like Van-Fem, is an independent Apostle and is a real history and antiques buff. He's very intelligent, and acts as one of the Inquisition's chief lecturers. His seminars are a must for every Inquisitor, and the questions he sets for us during examinations are murderous," Ciel blanched as she remembered the playful smirk on the Dead Apostle's childish features, "Merem was originally a child who lived in the Middle East a long time ago. He had a connection with nature that allowed him to speak with animals and to materialise the wishes of the people around him. As it was during those days, the villagers had severed him limbs to prevent him from escaping and worshipped him as the deity. The Crimson Moon King took notice of him, and challenged the villagers to a morbid game - if they could imagine a beast, via Merem, that could defeat him, they would live to see the dawn; if not, he would kill them all.
"The villagers lost, and Merem died. The Crimson Moon King revived him as an Apostle and told him to imagine beasts that will take the place of his limbs. Merem is one of Arcuied's most ardent protectors; should she come to harm, he will turn Rome upside down - literally. The other Dead Apostle that we have kept sealed in the deepermost vaults of the Church is El Nahat, who ranks 24th in the hierarchy."
"El Nahat? I've been looking for him for some time. How did you manage to capture him?" Arcuied asked.
"El Nahat did not come quietly. We had to destroy his body before we could contain him with a Holy Scripture. It was the only weakness that we learnt at the cost of many lives. El Nahat could regenerate his body, but it would take him decades to do so. His ability, however, is one that is of great import that we captured him instead of killing him - he can destroy other Dead Apostles single-handedly, but at the cost of having his body destroyed."
"In short, a tactical nuke," Shiki said.
"Exactly, Tohno-kun," Ciel replied.
"There are three more Dead Apostles that I have yet to mention," Arcuied said, "The first one is Gransburg Blackmoore. He served the Crimson Moon King alongside Telvam Ortenrosse. He has a long-standing alliance with the Mage's Association, and has been keeping tabs on the Grail War or some such ever since it began. Gransburg ranks 16th in the list, and is nicknamed the Lord of the Black Wing, as opposed to Ortenrosse's title as Lord of the White Wing. Gransburg attained his placing among the 27 after defeating its previous occupant and exterminating all of his clan with a Reality Marble called Nevermore. He defeated them without spilling a single drop of blood. As to what he looks like...well, Gransburg's physical outlook is more avian than human, and those he drains the blood from take after him."
"Avian...? You mean he looks like a bird?" Shiki asked.
"Yes. Imagine putting an avian head, wings and taloned feet on any one person in this restaurant, and you would know what Gransburg looks like," Arcuied said, "They're something like were-ravens."
"The second one is one I rarely see. Her name is Sumire. She lives in the ocean depths, and her castle has been transformed into a tourist attraction. She is one of the strongest among the Dead Apostles, or would be, if not for her penchant for getting drunk. Sumire is one of the few Dead Apostles, like ORT, who can call upon a Reality Marble. Len can do the same," Arcuied said, nodding in Shiki's direction, "but hers is not as devastating as Sumire's or Gransburg's. On a side note, I heard that Van-Fem has blacklisted her for causing him no end of trouble when she visited one of his casinos."
"What did she do?" Shiki asked, knowing that the answer was obvious, but wanting to confirm it all the same.
"I think you can guess. The casino's bars had to be closed for a week as its workers restocked. Van-Fem, upon hearing the headache Sumire had given his retainer (who was the casino's manager), told the latter that if Sumire so much as step within the shadow of the casino a second time, to call him."
"I take it that Sumire left quite an impression," Shiki chuckled. Shion and Ciel tried hard not to laugh at the ridiculous image of a drunk vampiress taking shape in their minds.
"Sumire ranks 21st in the hierarchy, and is a close friend of Rita Rosanne, who ranks 15th in the hierarchy. The latter is an artist, and her Reality Marbles allow her to give life to her drawings. Both of Rita's parents were Dead Apostles who have passed on and have left their estates in her care. From what I've heard about Rita, she's quite, quite arrogant. She has quite a lot in common with Ortenrosse. Like him, she will try to either convert Shiki, as doing so will ensure that her enemies will think twice before raising a hand against her, or kill him, if she cannot."
A silence descended on all who sat at the table. Ciel ordered four hot drinks from the waiter, and studied her companions. Shiki looked very uncomfortable. She could not blame him. His clash with the Dead Apostles had been unavoidable, but they would turn the eyes of beings whose attentions were best not aroused, on him. He knew that, one day, he would have to leave the city. The moment he did, however, Ciel swore that the young man would not leave it alone.
She turned her gaze on Arcuied, who looked none too happy at the thought of Shiki fighting against beings almost as powerful as her. The fact that the True Ancestor Princess cared a lot for the person who nearly killed her was not lost on Ciel. Shiki was Arcuied's first true friend in all the years she had been alive, and apparently wanted him to be more. Emotions she did not understand arose. Arcuied's own Beast desired him, sensing a kindred spirit. Ciel remembered the look in Arcuied's eyes back then, when her Beast almost took control. They blazed with hunger and desire, and each step she took towards Shiki held a promise of infinite pain and slavery. Had she not intervened, Shiki would have become a Dead Apostle.
Shion Eltnam Atlasia's face was devoid of emotion, a clear indication that the Head of the Magic Institute in Egypt was angry - and very jealous. She reminded Ciel of Akiha, and the way they showed their affection for Shiki was the same. Behind the stern glares and steel-edged words were girls who wanted the same thing that every normal girl wanted.
Ciel had to admit that she herself was no different. Even though Roa was dead, she still possessed the same inhuman abilities as when the Serpent of Akasha was still alive. Her lifespan would be three times that of a normal human, but now, at least, she could die. And, for the first time, Ciel had wanted to see and study the world she lived in. She had all the time to do so, and to indulge in her passion for cooking and curry. And perhaps, just maybe, bring Shiki to France...
A startled squeak broke Ciel out of her thoughts, and her eyes widened at the sight of Arcuied's nose being pinched by Shiki. Shion, for her part, looked both surprised and envious at the public display of affection. Len meowed in protest, the shapeshifted succubus clearly wanting the same treatment as well.
"We've had a good meal and an interesting discussion that lasted," Shiki looked at the clock, "the better part of three hours. To see everyone so...moody is not helping my digestion. I do not deny the possibility that what you fear may happen, but it has yet to happen. And until that day comes, I will treasure moments like these."
Arcuied and Shion looked embarrassed.
"You have a point, Shiki," Arcuied beamed, the dark air about her dissipating, "And besides, I still have enough money for dessert."
Ciel, Shion and Shiki stared at the True Ancestor Princess. The meal they had just had would have easily cost a man the better part of his monthly takings; the restaurant they were in was high-class, after all! And she still had money for more...? Ciel and Shiki looked askance at Shion, and the alchemist nodded once. Should Arcuied be short on cash...
"And besides, Shiki..." Arcuied's smile became playful, "since she's here...I think it would be rude to not include it."
The royal broom-stick shot up Shiki's spine. Len, sensing her master's alarm, looked up and behind him, ready to turn the entire restaurant into a ruin. When the shapeshifted succubus returned to her resting position, it confirmed Shiki's suspicion. Akiha was behind him. He turned his head - slowly - to see his regal, fuming, younger sister towering over him (despite the fact that he was the taller of the two of them!). He began to sweat, and the nervous look on his face reminded Ciel and Shion of a child who was caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar. How in all that was holy did she manage to find him?
"I believe, nii-san," Akiha said slowly, her arms crossed, a clear indication that she was extremely irritated, "that I am owed an explanation as to why you did not turn up in class today and why you are in the company of such...interesting characters."
Shiki came to a conclusion that, perhaps, facing all 27 Dead Apostles at once was safer than facing his sister, who looked all too ready to do what a good number of them would do to him in the near future.