- o0o -
- o0o -
He had known that it would be coming, and he had known that it would be coming soon.
For better or worse, he had also gone to the lengths of informing others, saying it would only be a question of time before the inevitable retaliation would come, and he himself had kept his eyes open and his senses on high alert without being too obvious about it, seeing that he usually had Link tailing him, keeping track of where he went and with whom he spoke.
Then again, as far as the latter was concerned, it wasn't as though Allen had actually spoken to all that many people besides those who had been involved in the whole Edo incident; most people avoided him outright, exchanging whispers and sending off suspicious looks in his general direction, likely because they were at least somewhat aware of the pending heresy charge that would with all due likelihood come crashing down upon him at the least opportune moment. Truth to be told though, Allen could hardly blame them. As a matter of fact, he had found himself mentally applauding them for actually having some sense of danger awareness even though they had all seemingly missed that there was another member of the Noah family hiding out somewhere in the Order, wearing the face of one of their own.
Then again, since Allen himself had yet to figure out just who wasn't who they claimed to be, he could hardly fault the sheep herd for not picking out all the wolves that were hiding out amongst them. It was just a tad annoying that they evidently failed to pick out the greater threat and instead focused their disdain on a lesser one, seeing that Allen himself – well, at the present at any rate – harboured very little desire to wreck mayhem in their cosy little headquarters since doing so evidently wouldn't be helping his current situation in the slightest.
Lulubell on the other hand was highly unlikely to harbour such discretion. Hell, Allen was fairly sure that she would feel tempted to do away with him if provided with the opportunity.
That having been said, Allen caught himself thinking that having people – Lavi and Link most prominently – wasn't all that bad in that regard, partially because Lulubell was far less likely to make a direct attempt at his life when there were witnesses immediately nearby and partially because the aforementioned witnesses would likely be possessing some type of means of protecting themselves, so not to get eliminated immediately should they come to witness such an event.
Even so, it ultimately did them all very little good once the attack finally came, and it did, and in force at that. Allen really wouldn't go as far as to say that it had come without warning; there had been a slight prelude before things had effectively gone to Hell, and in both cases, he was in the area wherein the Black Order scientists had been investigating the Egg that had been extracted from the Ark. Really, judging from the looks on the faces of some, it was as though they had not been able to even conceive the thought that the Earl – or just whoever was currently operating the other Ark – would actually be sensible enough to open up a gate at the very heart of the Black Order headquarters whenever the man – or whoever was in charge of the man's troops – decided to attack. Really, they ought to have seen it coming, somehow.
That having been said, he too had not been paying the proper amount of attention, seeing to the fact that Lulubell – disguised as Andrew Nansen, the Head of the Oceanian Branch – had not wasted the opportunity that he in his very brief lapse in attention had given her, stabbing him in his side as she had passed by at a reasonably close proximity.
Realisation quickly dawning in synchronicity with the searing pain that quickly blossomed and then rapidly spread from between his ribs, he snapped his head up and did manage to register that the gate to the other Ark had indeed appeared, and in the room's entrance as well, effectively sealing it and trapping him and all of those unfortunate enough to share his company within it and with all due likelihood also preventing any reinforcements from the outside from reaching them.
As a plan, it was definitely well-conceived. Truly, if he hadn't been on the floor in the middle of dealing with all the blood leaking into his likely punctured lung, then he would probably have praised Lulubell for having the sense of not only sealing the space off in order to set the stage for a freaking massacre, but also for having the sense to do so after incapacitating him, seeing that he was the only one present who would otherwise have been able to provide interference, giving the people on the other side of the gate a way in through making one of his own.
Besides, though the realisation that he could no longer breathe properly had certainly caused panic to blossom within him, it was hardly deadly. Hell, Tyki had poked a bloody hole in his heart and he had still made it, so a punctured lung was really more inconvenient than it was fatal, likely meant to temporarily incapacitate him in order to prevent interference on his part and doing a bloody damn good job of it, because oh God, it hurt like Hell.
Truth to be told, he must have passed out somewhere along the way, because when he did regain his senses – in a seated position propped up against something, and to a hand sealing his mouth no less, no doubt placed there in order to silence any pained outcry – he found himself in the company of Bak Chan, some kid in glasses that he knew to be from the Science Department, and finally the leader of the North American Branch of the Black Order – something Epstain, maybe – and also – as he soon discovered once he did manage to force his eyes open – the blurry outline of Link, though the latter seemed to be in an even sorrier state than he was, lying unresponsive on the floor. Huh.
The hand covering his mouth withdrew to instead make a slight waving motion before his eyes, no doubt to test whether or not he was actually with them. "Allen," Bak's semi familiar voice sounded in his ear, a harsh whisper. "Can you hear me?"
A stupid question that. There was nothing wrong with his sense of hearing. His lungs on the other hand… didn't feel so bad after all; at least not if one compared them to the sting from the wound in his side. Obviously, either his Innocence or his Inner Noah had been hard at work mending the damage while he had been out, and since none of the people present seemed to be eyeing him like he was an adder in the Garden of Eden or anything, it was only fair to assume – even in his still somewhat befuddled state – that it had been his Innocence and not his Inner Noah that had dived in to rescue him this time around.
He directed his eyes towards the source of the voice as the other withdrew slightly in response, and he took in the other's bloodied and generally ruffled up appearance, as well as their seemingly distressed and grief-stricken demeanour which now gave way to a glimmer of hopefulness as Allen lifted his hand, putting a finger to his lips to signal for them to be quiet, a signal that they all abided to and fairly quickly at that. In turn, this allowed Allen to – with a slight amount of assistance from the kid with the glasses – sneak a momentary glance at the situation before ducking back down behind the large iron barrels that had seemingly shielded them from the attention of those below.
Having managed to ascertain some gauge of the situation, he chanced another look and was then able to confirm what he had seen a snapshot of moments prior, namely that Lulubell – and in effect, one half of her army of Level Threes – were busy prepping the Egg for transport whilst the other half – along with a bunch of Skulls that had seemingly appeared during the time that he had been unconscious – guarded the neatly lined up bloodied bodies of those scientists who hadn't managed to make their escape to the upper levels and instead found themselves facing an even greater peril, namely either being put to death or being turned into Skulls themselves if their brains were deemed useful enough. Judging from the line of corpses, most had been spared from the latter. Then again, as far as he could see now that his vision had mostly cleared up, there were still plenty of scientists left to go.
Admittedly, Allen had never really liked humans in the first place, save a select few. However, though he didn't like them very much and usually thought of them as foolish, he had never been able to relish in their suffering or in bearing witness to it, even though he sincerely doubted that there were any people that he had even spoken to laid out on the floor down below. Then again…
There came an anguished whisper from his left, from the kid in the glasses. "Tapp!"
"Johnny!" Bak hissed sharply, clearly warning the other against taking further action, even with the impending peril of this Tapp person. If it was indeed so, then it was a sensible choice – but definitely not an easy one, seeing that the pain of being forced to make it was evident in the branch leader's features.
Allen had never really liked humans. Then again, as a matter of fact, he had never really liked being forced to bear witness to the face of human suffering either, unlike so many others of his supposed kin. Then again…
A shot rang out, shattering his focus momentarily. Quickly, his eyes found the person who had been responsible for it, joined by the others in this endeavour.
"That idiot! They'll kill him!"
Well, that definitely spared him the effort of figuring those things out for himself, which was a good thing indeed since his brain – for whichever reason – didn't seem to be functioning properly. Truly, had he not known very well that he had been stabbed, then he would no doubt have blamed it all on a fictitious concussion. Then again, perhaps it was just the blood loss getting to him? Or was it indeed so that Lulubell had thought that just stabbing him was too plebeian of an act and had instead opted to refine her modus operandi through lacing the blade with some type of poison?
He shook his head, because possibilities or not, they were irrelevant and he needed to dispel them from his thoughts and instead pay more attention to the issues at hand, namely the continuous slaughter and conversion activities that were taking place below, though the latter had temporarily ceased with the recent interference of one possibly suicidal section leader.
("If you want to get to them, you'll have to get through me!")
Taking a deep breath and then another, Allen steeled himself for the task at hand before calling upon his Innocence, which responded to him eagerly, unusually eager to do his bidding. Then again, all things considered, maybe he was the one who was-…
He discarded the thought and collected himself, knowing well that there was but seconds for him to make use of before everything went down. The Ark responded to him with similar ease, and as he sensed a gate forming beneath him, he opened his eyes back up, opening his mouth for the first time since it had all gone down, his mask falling into place as his Innocence flared up around him. "Go now, go quickly," he offered them quietly as he jumped up onto the very edge of the balcony, swaying a bit before regaining his balance. "If the akuma find it, they'll follow."
With that, he jumped down just in time to slice the Skull that had been intent on salvaging the brain of the reckless Reever Wenham in half. Truly, it made him wonder just how the Order had gotten by during the time that he hadn't been around. Really, had the Earl been even the slightest bit serious about matters, that sorry little Order of theirs would have been eradicated ages ago.
"Sorry to interrupt," he drawled, standing on top of the blade as he tilted his head slightly upwards and to the side, making it glaringly obvious that he was directing himself towards Lulubell, who was seated upon the shoulder of a Level Three. "Next time, you should try aiming for the heart."
To say that pandemonium ensued would have been a grave understatement, especially so when the reinforcements finally turned up and threw themselves into the mix. Admittedly, Lulubell and her army of Level Threes did put up a fairly good fight, but when she caught herself facing down the assembled force of the Black Order generals and the few regular exorcists that still had access to functioning weapons, she attempted to make her escape with the Egg in a tow. The key word of course being 'attempted', because Allen – still nursing a serious grudge for obvious reasons – took the opportunity to bury his Sword of Exorcism in the thing before adrenalin finally began running out on him, at which point he sprung from it and back to what seemed like the closest piece of solid ground that hadn't been covered in greenery courtesy of General Tiedoll's Garden of Eden.
Even so, his feet had barely touched the ground before he – even in his rapidly deteriorating state – sensed that something was distinctly amiss, a hunch that was swiftly confirmed by his curse acting up, reacting to something. However, with the area as littered with Dark Matter as it was, emanating both from the destroyed and the partially destroyed akuma, it was as though he could not pinpoint the exact location of whatever was causing this feeling of uneasiness.
Then there was something akin to a tremor rippling the atmosphere that had up until then begun to calm, and when the second and the third tremor came around in quick succession, Allen was at least halfway aware of what could possibly be afoot, just as he was fully aware that his present state – exhaustion and injuries and all – would by no means be enough to deal with it on his own. Then again…
As the fourth ripple passed through the air, he was at its source, arriving just in time to see an abomination be born out of it. He looked, and instantly wished that he hadn't, because a wave of nausea immediately welled up within him and soon had him putting a hand before his mouth to prevent himself from being sick right then and there as his body began trembling and tears began welling up in his eyes where he had collapsed onto his hands and knees.
Then the abomination was suddenly standing right next to him, looking down upon him with all due likelihood. "Are you crying?"
Judging from the lilt of its voice, it was curious – childlike almost, befitting of its mildly grotesque but still somehow childlike features where it stood, a double halo over its head and wings attached to its back like some fallen angel, risen from the ashes to make them all pay for their wretched humanity.
In a way, even though its mere presence and particularly at a close proximity proved sickening to him, he wondered whether or not he ought to attempt to reason with it. The akuma were after all the Earl's hands and feet, and likely also his eyes and ears to some extent. As such, negotiating with the other through it would with all due likelihood be very possible. Then again, since he had just damaged the Earl's prized possession beyond any point of repair, perhaps it would not be such a good idea to make contact with the man himself, and especially not with all the witnesses present.
However, the decision was ultimately taken out of his hands as another shot rang out, echoing in the silence and then followed by two more in rapid succession.
For the slightest moment, he even thought that he had been hit, but discarded the notion when the Level Four staggered – mostly out of surprise – before snapping its head in another direction, presumably in direction of whoever had fired the shots. Cross probably.
With that realisation, tension drained from him and he fell forward and into darkness.
- o0o -
"How badly hurt is he?"
"We've managed to put a stop to the bleeding. He's lost a lot of blood, but…"
But what? What?
"Hey, over here! We need a stretcher!"
A stretcher? For what?
"Can you hear me? Hey!"
Go away. Leave me alone. Let me die in peace.
"It's taking too long. I'll carry him myself."
"Bak, are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive."
"Allen, are you with us?"
It depends. Continue like this and I might consider-…
There, now he had answered. Now-…
"You were stabbed, and you've lost a lot of blood."
Well, obviously. Shit happens.
"The Akuma Factory has been destroyed and most of the Earl's forces have retreated."
Thanks to me, mostly. Still…
"Cross is in pursuit. He and the others will take care of it."
Oh. Okay then.
"A few, unfortunately. Mostly injuries though."
Well, that was nice, or at least so he supposed. Then again…
Something came into contact with his side and he hissed, trying to move his body; trying to curl into himself and to protect his vital organs even though he was kind of aware of the fact that it was kind of late to start thinking about doing that this late in the game. Then again…
"Bak, the stretcher."
"Good, bring it over here."
"Someone, take the front."
- o0o -
He spent the night in the medical ward, and the rest of the week avoiding an increasingly persistent Head Nurse and a limping Link. Thus, in order to stay clear of both of them, Allen stayed clear of any areas wherein the aforementioned people – or any of their sympathisers – might expect to find him, and instead opted to head somewhere where he wouldn't necessarily be expected to be and to seek the company of people who would not necessarily turn him in at the first available opportunity. And, seeing that such people were in relatively low supply, he only really had one option left.
Lavi looked somewhat surprised to see him.
Bookman looked at him and then glared at his apprentice.
Allen – armed with a deck of cards – smiled disarmingly.
As they spent the afternoon playing poker on the floor, Allen kind of wondered how the pair would react if he told them just to whom the deck that they were playing with used to belong.
"I've got nothing." Lavi sent him a sideways glance. "And you're definitely cheating."
"Prove it," Allen responded dully, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the game.
"Shut up, Idiot Apprentice," Bookman snapped as he lay down his cards. "Full house."
Allen presented his own cards. "Royal straight flush."
Lavi dipped his head slightly, muttering under his breath."Definitely cheating."
"It takes a cheater to know one," Allen commented, keeping his voice and expression frank as he cut the deck before handing it over to Bookman. "Besides, it's not like I can cheat when I'm not the one shuffling the deck now, is it?"
Bookman nodded sagely, taking the deck from him and shuffling it whilst Lavi continued to glare at him suspiciously before seemingly coming to a decision. "At least let me check your sleeves," he demanded, and Allen readily obliged, finding a fair deal of amusement in seeing the bafflement on the apprentice's face seeing that for once, his sleeves were completely empty. There were other ways to cheat after all, and especially so with Bookman being in on it. Really, so much for the Bookman clan's supposed policy of non-involvement, eh?
Then again, all things considered, it wasn't as though Allen himself was in any position to be pointing fingers now, was it?
"I saw it, you know. The stabbing incident." – He lifted his head slightly, directing his attention towards Lavi. – "After they recovered the footage from that golem of yours, Timcanpy."
Allen tilted his head slightly, blinking slowly. "Is that so?"
"You sure are lucky," the redhead insisted. "They said that it punctured your lung."
"I was fine." Allen shifted his position slightly, leaning his elbow onto his knee and using his knuckles to prop up his chin. "Contrary to popular belief and my less than charming personality, I am very loved."
"By Innocence," Lavi commented, because it wasn't really a question. "By God."
"Haven't met the latter." Allen shifted slightly, so that his chin was now leaning against the heel of his hand. "The former, most definitely." – Perhaps even a tad too much, when it all came down to it.
"Seems rather protective of you, doesn't it?" Lavi noted, just as Allen noted the rather pointed look that Bookman was sending the other's way.
"Things are not always as they seem," he finally admitted, looking on as Bookman began dealing. "Besides, at some point, all units of Innocence will probably start showing similar signs…"
The redhead shot him a very interested look but said nothing, seemingly wishing for him to continue, so he did, seeing that there was very little harm in it.
"Parasitic types harness its power using their bodies, achieving a higher level of synchronisation."
"It's a parasitic relationship, so it'd only make sense for the Innocence to develop some type of modified defence mechanism in order to ensure the continued livelihood of its host."
"After all," he went on, glancing at his own arm as he said it. "Finding a suitable one is hardly easy now, is it?"
"Still…" Lavi insisted, picking up the cards that he had been dealt, grimacing slightly at the outcome. "Those with parasitic Innocence have a reduced lifespan…"
"Harbouring Innocence and utilising it requires energy," Allen responded calmly as he gathered his own cards. "We burn brightly," he went on as he sorted them depending on their degree of usefulness. "We burn brightly, but we burn out quickly since it depletes us, wearing us down."
"Cross told you?"
Allen shrugged mildly. "If Cross told me things, then I sincerely doubt that I would've stuck around," he said, not lifting his gaze from the cards. "And if I told you things, then I sincerely doubt that you'd stay around either."
He could tell that there were looks, both those exchanged and those sent his way, but he ignored them both, keeping his eyes – and for the most part also his mind – on the game.
"Who knows," Lavi finally responded, grinning widely. "As you already know, I tend to be rather persiste-ouch!" The redhead rubbed his head, glaring pointedly at the one responsible. "Stop hitting me, Old Man!"
For this, he received another smack on the head.
Bookman remained entirely unapologetic.
- o0o -